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Out Of Time 

Margaret Cheney 

Margaret Cheney 





To aid in the pronunciation of Serbo-Croatian names: 
D g as in gin 

e e as in met 

z z as in azure 

c ch as in chin; soft, almost tj 
c ts as in fits 

c ch as in charge 

§ sh as in shall 

Acknowledgments be 
Introduction xiii 
1 Modem Prometheus 1 
2 A Gambling Man 6 
3 Immigrants of Distinction 21 
4 At the Court of Mr. Edison 27 
5 The War of the Currents Begins 38 
6 Order of the Flaming Sword 51 
7 Radio 62 
8 High Society 76 
9 High Road, Low Road 88 

PA\TTC\ITC 10 An Error of Judgment 98 
IAJINIHWIo 11 To Mars 108 

12 Robots 119 
13 Hurler of Lightning 133 
14 Blackout at Colorado Springs 142 
15 Magnificent and Doomed 152 
16 Ridiculed, Condemned, Combatted 161 
17 The Great Radio Controversy 176 

18 Midstream Perils 185 

19 The Nobel Affair 190 
20 Flying Stove 198 

21 Radar 207 
22 The Guest of Honor 215 
23 Pigeons 222 
24 Transitions 232 
25 The Birthday Parties 237 
26 Corks on Water 243 
27 Cosmic Communion 252 
28 Death and Transfiguration 258 
29 The Missing Papers 268 
30 The Legacy 281 
Bibliographical Essay 291 
Reference Notes 293 
Postscript 309 
Index 311 


I wish particularly to thank: 

Leland Anderson, one of the founders of the Tesla Society,* a 
coauthor of the annotated Dr. Nikola Tesla Bibliography (San Carlos, 
Ca., Ragusan Press, 1979), and author of the monograph, “Priority in 
the Invention of Radio, Tesla v. Marconi,” Mr. Anderson’s research and 
scholarly works on Tesla have been a major interest of his life. An 
electrical engineer and former computer consultant, he reviewed my 
manuscript and generously shared his collection of Tesliana, including 
many previously unpublished materials and photographs. 

Maurice Stahl, a physicist formerly with the Hoover Company 
and now a consultant for the McKinley Historical Museum in Ohio 
(featuring a Tesla exhibit), also reviewed the manuscript and advised 
on technical aspects. 

Dr. Bogdan Raditsa, who served under President Tito of 
Yugoslavia in the early days of his administration, clarified and ampli- 
fied Yugoslav-Allied politics during World War II as it affected Tesla. He 
has lived in America for many years, writes books and articles, and 
teaches Balkan history at Fairleigh Dickinson University. 

Dr. Lauriston S. Taylor, a radiological physics consultant and 
recent past president of the NCRP, is an authority on the pioneers of X 
ray and, as such, read and commented on Tesla’s contributions in this 

Lambert Dolphin, assistant director of the Radio Physics Labo- 
ratory, SRI International, analyzed Tesla’s research in ball lightning, 
particle-beam weapons, radio communication, and alternating 

Dr. James R. Wait, formerly senior scientist at the National 
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration environmental research lab- 
oratories at Boulder, Colorado, and an authority on wave propagation, 
commented on Tesla’s concept of electromagnetic energy being trans- 
mitted “through the Earth,” as did Mr. Anderson. 

*The society has been disbanded. 



Professor Warren D. Rice of Arizona State University, a leading 
researcher on the Tesla turbine, also analyzed Tesla’s theories of ter- 
restrial-heat power plants and ocean thermal energy conversion plants 
against the foreground of contemporary work. 

I am indebted to radio pioneer Commander E. J. Quinby 
(USN Ret) who contributed his personal reminiscences of Tesla’s early 
work in radio and robotry; to Dr. Albert J. Phillips, former research 
director of ASARCO, for memories of working with Tesla on a research 
project; and to Dr. William M. Mueller, Colorado School of Mines, 
Department of Metallurgy, who gave his analysis of the ASARCO 

Of Tesla’s many loyal admirers in America, few have worked as 
tirelessly to see justice done to his memory as Nick Basura. He guided 
me to useful sources at the beginning of my research, for which I am 

Harry Goldman, a Tesla scholar and writer-photographer, 
provided valuable information and special services in the enhancing of 
old photographic prints, as well as contributing photos from his private 

I am grateful to Eleanor Treibek of Volunteers in Action, the 
Language Bank, Monterey, California, for translation assistance; to the 
Tesla Museum in Belgrade. Yugoslavia, for photographs and for the 
letters of Katharine Johnson, and of Michael Pupin, A. J. Fleming, Sir 
William Crookes, Richmond P. Hobson, and other tributes to Nikola 
Tesla; to Professor Philip S. Callahan for permission to use his photo- 
graph of Tesla’s birthplace; to the Butler Library at Columbia Univer- 
sity for photographs and the letters of Robert and Katharine Johnson, 
George Scherff, Nikola Tesla, George Westinghouse, Major Edwin 
Armstrong, and Leland Anderson; to the Manuscript Division of the 
Library of Congress for the microfilm letters of Nikola Tesla, Robert 
Johnson, Mark Twain, B. F. Meissner, George Scherff, George West- 
inghouse, J. Pierpont Morgan, J. P. Morgan, and others; to Archivist J. 
R. K. Kantor of the Bancroft Library; University of California, Berkeley, 
for access to the Julian Hawthorne Papers, and to the university’s 
History of Science and Technology Project; to the reference staffs of 
the John Steinbeck Library at Salinas, the New York Public Library, 
and the libraries of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; to the 
librarian of Special Collections, Purdue University; to Mr. Elliot N. 
Sivowitch and the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Amer- 
ican History; to the Westinghouse Corporation, the Brookhaven Na- 


tional Laboratory, RCA, and Niagara Mohawk-for photographs; to 
Robert Golka for information on “Project Tesla.” 

I wish also to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the 
Department of the Navy, the National Security Agency, the Central 
Intelligence Agency, the National Archives and Record Service, the 
technical librarian of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Office of 
Alien Property, and the Office of the Medical Examiner, City of New 

The author and the publisher also gratefully acknowledge in- 
debtedness for quotations in the text of this book as follows: 

To Dr. Jule Eisenbud and Mrs. Laura A. Dale for permission to 
auote from the article, “Two Approaches to Spontaneous Case Mate- 
rial,” by Eisenbud, in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical 
Research of July 1963; to the David McKay Company for permission 
to quote from John J. O’Neill’s Prodigal Genius (originally published 
by Ives Washburn, Inc., 1944); to the New York Times for lines from 
“Electrical Sorcerer;” by Waldemar Kaempffert, Book Review Section, 
Feb. 4, 1945; to Time magazine for lines from its cover story on Nikola 
Tesla of July 20, 1931; to Frederic B. Jueneman for permission to 
quote from Limits of Uncertainty, p. 206f, Dun-Donnelly, Chicago, 
1975; and to Jueneman and Industrial Research to quote from “Inno- 
vative Notebook,” by Jueneman, February 1974. 

Thanks to Science & Mechanics for permission to quote from 
the article, “Our Future Motive Power,” by Nikola Tesla, Everyday 
Science & Mechanics, December 1931, and to reproduce an illustra- 
tion therefrom. 

Especially thanks to M. Harvey Gernsback, president of 
Gemsback Publications, Inc., for permission to reprint photos, illustra- 
tions of the artist Frank Paul, and quotes from “My Inventions,” by 
Nikola Tesla, that appeared in the Electrical Experimenter and Science 
& Invention, formerly published by Hugo Gemsback. 

And to Leland Anderson for permission to quote from “Pri- 
ority in Invention of Radio, Tesla v. Marconi,” Antique Wireless Asso- 
ciation, March 1980. 

In addition the author is indebted to the Nikola Tesla Museum 
for words quoted from Colorado Springs Notes, 1899-1900, by Nikola 
Tesla; to King Peter II for a quotation from A King’s Heritage, Putnam, 
New York, 1954, and for lines from T. C. Martin, ed., The Inventions, 
Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla, reprinted from The Electrical 


Engineer, 1894 (reissued by Omni Publications, Hawthorne, Calif., 

Among friends and relatives, I am grateful to inventor Allen 
Davidson and to Randy Pierce and “PJ”, who bravely read and com- 
mented on the manuscript in its earliest phases and heartened me with 
their enthusiasm. Most of all I thank Barbara Nelson for her editorial 
criticism and loyalty throughout a lengthy endeavor. 


Despite the flashy; dramatic, and often limelight attention that Nikola 
Tesla was given in the heyday of his reign in the fields of research and 
engineering, he maintained a very private personal life. Being a 
loner— a perennial bachelor, working apart, not entering into corpo- 
rate associations, and not mixing friends— his personal life was 
obscure to outsiders. Such reclusiveness marking the career of one of 
the world’s leading figures in science and engineering can pose severe 
analytical obstacles for a biographer. However, almost immediately 
after Tesla’s death at the age of eighty-six in 1943, the biography 
Prodigal Genius appeared by John J. O’Neill, science editor of the New 
York Herald Tribune. For many years it stood as the only biography of 
Tesla, primarily because of the difficulty for any other would-be 
biographer to uncover significant additional information about him. 

Following WWII, the tons of material representing Tesla’s 
library were shipped to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, the country of his birth 
(Tesla was a U.S. citizen), where a state museum was established in his 
name. The circumstances surrounding the transfer of his estate to 
Yugoslavia ate interesting but will not be commented upon here 
except to point out the problem of remoteness of such a museum for 
any biographer in this country let alone the severe restrictions on 
access to archival materials that exist for researchers venturing to the 

In 1959, two rather short biographies of Tesla appeared. Dr. 
Helen Walter’s book was intended for young people, and curiously 
contained illustration and frontispiece sketches quite unlike Tesla’s 
appearance. Margaret Storm’s book, published by herself and printed 
in green ink, was based on the assertion that Tesla was an embodiment 
of a superior being from the planet Venus! Another short biography 
intended for young people appeared in 1961 by Arthur Beckhard. 
Tesla’s name was misspelled on the dust jacket (Tesla once wrote to a 
friend that he wished he could turn all the forked lightning in his 
laboratory on critics who misspell his name), and the book omits 



essentially everything on his life after 1900 (Tesla was then 44). All 
three authors leaned heavily on O’Neill’s biography as evidenced by 
the perpetuation of a number of erroneous legends that subsequent 
study has vitiated, and none of the three extended O’Neill’s treatment 

Lightning in His Hand: The Life Story of Nikola Tesla, by Inez 
Hunt and Wanetta Draper, nearby residents of Colorado Springs, 
appeared in 1964, twenty years after O’Neill’s biography O’Neill did 
not venture to Colorado Springs, where Tesla established an experi- 
mental station in 1899 and conducted electrical experiments which to 
this very day amaze scientists the world over, and consequently did not 
benefit from information that could have been provided by residents of 
that city about Tesla’s interactions with them. Tesla took on flesh and 
bones to some degree in Hunt and Draper’s biography, and the book 
carried numeious photographs. Much of the focus of the book 
concerned Tesla’s half-year stay in the Springs, which was the original 
intent of the authors. 

Why should anyone actually wish to undertake another full 
biography after the appearance of O’Neill’s Prodigal Genius ? It has 
been considered the most authoritative biography extant, and proba- 
bly was the best effort that could have been produced by anyone at 
that time, with the exception of Kenneth Swezey — a science writer and 
Tesla’s close personal friend during the last twenty-plus years of his life. 
However, from this vantage point of distance in time, O’Neill’s 
biography is now seen to be weak insofar as it analyzed Tesla the man 
and thin with regard to his interactions with personal associates and 
friends. Even though O’Neill and Tesla were amicable, Tesla kept 
O’Neill at a distance, and O’Neill gleaned only what he was able to pry 
out of Tesla with great difficulty — certainly not the most ideal liaison for 
a biographer. 

Much information has surfaced since the appearance of 
O’Neill’s biography, adding new dimensions to the extent of knowl- 
edge about Tesla. Many questions asked by students of his life have 
been answered; however, this unfolding has also presented many 
more mysteries. The Freedom of Information Acts revealed that the 
federal government had a great interest in Tesla’s papers. Why 
shouldn’t it? In the midst of WW II, and at press conferences, Tesla 
often startled reporters with talk of developing weapons with beams 
that would melt aircraft, telegeodynamics, and other advanced con- 
cepts. Whether real or speculative, the federal government took no 
chances. What became of these investigations by federal agencies is a 
story in itself 


In reviewing my own interest in Tesla, since high school days I 
was fascinated by his high frequency high voltage researches for which 
he became world known. I was disturbed, however, by the inordinate 
difficulty in obtaining copies of his technical writings and, as well, 
identifying references to writings by others about Tesla’s work. This 
prompted what was to become a project of many years — that of 
producing an exhaustive catalog (published in 1979 as a bibliography 
and for which I served as co-editor) of the writings by and about Tesla 
and his work. In the course of pursuing studies in electrical engineer- 
ing, and continuing interest in Tesla’s high frequency, high voltage 
researches, my inquiries eventually led me to meet those who worked 
for him, such as his secretaries Dorothy Skerritt and Muriel Arbus, and 
laboratory technicians such as Walter Wilhelm. Along the way, his 
personal friends came into the picture as well as others who had 
known Tesla on a person-to-person basis. 

As the Tesla Centennial (1956) approached, it became appar- 
ent that no observances were being arranged by the major scientific 
and engineering organizations in this country to signal the event 
Together with Skerritt, Arbus, Wilhelm, and a number of other 
interested persons, therefore, I helped found the Tesla Society — the 
function of which was to develop and coordinate activities for the 
centennial observance. Following the centennial year, the Society 
expired, but an awareness of Tesla’s impact on society was regenerated 
in the hiatus since his death. An interest had been reawakened in the 
discoveries that he announced and demonstrated, but which had been 
retarded in development because of a technology lag in associated 
disciplines, such as material sciences. 

Inspiration — that is what he gave to other inventors whose 
endeavors his life spanned, and that is what his work continues to give 
to technical specialists in these times. On the occasion of Tesla’s 
seventy-fifth birthday (1931), his contemporaries wrote that his lectures 
were then both as imaginative and inspirational to productive develop- 
ment as when they were first published forty years before that 

In almost every step of progress in electrical power engineer- 
ing, as well as in radio, we can trace the spark of thought back 
to Nikola Tesla. There are few indeed who in their lifetime see 
realization of such a far-flung imagination. (E. F. IV Alexanderson) 

In reading of Tesla’s work one is constantly struck by his many 
suggestions which have anticipated later developments in the 
radio art (Louis Cohen) 


Prolific inventor, who solved the greatest problem in electrical 
engineering of his time, and gave to the world the polyphase 
motor and system of distribution, revolutionizing the power art 
and founding its phenomenal development My contact as 
your assistant at tire historic Columbia University high fre- 
quency lecture and afterward has left an indelible impression 
and inspiration which has influenced my life. (Gano Dunn) 

You fanned into a never dying flame my latent interest in 
gaseous conduction. Early in 1894 1 told our mutual friend that 
your book . . . , which contains your original lectures, would still 
be considered a classic a hundred years hence. I have not 
changed my opinion. (D. McFarlan Moore) 

I remember vividly the eagerness and fascination with which I 
read your account of the high tension experiments more than 
forty years ago. They were most original and daring; they 
opened up new vistas for exploration by thought and experi- 
ment (W. H. Bragg) 

There are three aspects of Tesla’s work which particularly 
deserve our admiration; The importance of the achievements 
in themselves, as judged by their practical bearing; the logical 
clearness and purity of thought with which the arguments are 
pursued and new results obtained; the vision and the inspira- 
tion, I should almost say the courage, of seeing remote things 
far ahead and so opening up new avenues to mankind. (I. C. M. 

Today, we yet find that the writings of Tesla retain their undiminished 
power of inspirational endeavor to the reader. Tesla was indeed out of 
his time, and this biography represents a distinct achievement in 
overcoming unusual investigative obstacles to bring his remarkable 
story to life. 

Leland Anderson 
Denver, Colorado 

Modem Prometheus 

Promptly at eight o’clock a patrician figure in his thirties was shown to 
his regular table in the Palm Room of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Tall 
and slender, elegantly attired, he was the cynosure of all eyes, though 
most diners, mindful of the celebrated inventor’s need for privacy, 
pretended not to stare. 

Eighteen clean linen napkins were stacked as usual at his 
place. Nikola Tesla could no more have said why he favored numbers 
divisible by three than why he had a morbid fear of germs or, for that 
matter, why he was beset by any of the multitude of other strange 
obsessions that plagued his life. 

Abstractedly he began to polish the already sparkling silver 
and crystal, taking up and discarding one square of linen after another 
until a small starched mountain had risen on the serving table. Then, 
as each dish arrived, he compulsively calculated its cubic contents 
before lifting a bite to his lips. Otherwise there could be no joy in 

Those who came to the Palm Room for the express purpose of 
observing the inventor might have noted that he did not order his meal 
from the menu. As usual, it had been specially prepared beforehand 
according to his telephoned instructions and now was being served at 
his request not by a waiter but by the maitre d’hotel himself 1 

While Tesla picked at his food, William K. Vanderbilt paused to 
chide the young Serb for not making better use of the Vanderbilt box 
at the opera And shortly after he left, a scholarly-looking man in a Van 
Dyke beard and small rimless glasses came to Tesla’s table and greeted 
him with particular affection. Robert Underwood Johnson, in addition 
to being a magazine editor and poet, was a socially ambitious and 
well-connected bon vivant 

Grinning, Johnson bent down and whispered in Tesla’s ear the 
latest rumor circulating among the “400”: a demure schooled named 
Anne Morgan, it seemed, had a crush on the inventor and was 
pestering her papa, Jl Pierpont, for an introduction. 



Tesla smiled in his modest way and inquired after Johnson’s 
wife, Katharine. 

“Kate has asked me to bring you to lunch on Saturday” said 

They discussed for a moment another guest of whom Tesla 
was fond — but only in a platonic way— a charming young pianist 
named Marguerite Merington. Assured that she too had been asked, 
he accepted the invitation. 

The editor went his way and Tesla returned his attention to the 
cubic contents of his dessert course. He had barely completed his 
calculations when a messenger appeared at his table and handed him 
a note. He recognized at once the bold scrawl of his friend Mark Twain. 

“If you do not have more exciting plans for the evening,” wrote 
the humorist, “perhaps you will join me at the Players’ Club.” 2 

Tesla scribbled a hasty reply: “Alas, I must work. But if you will 
join me in my laboratory at midnight, I think I can promise you some 
good entertainment” 

It was, as usual, precisely ten o’clock when Tesla rose from his 
table and vanished into the erratically lighted streets of Manhattan. 

Strolling back toward his laboratory, he turned into a small 
park arid whistled softly. From high in the walls of a nearby building 
came a rustling of wings. Soon a familiar white shape fluttered to rest 
on his shoulder. Tesla took a bag of grain from his pocket, fed the 
pigeon from his hand, then wafted her into the night, and blew her a 

Now he considered his next move. If he continued on around 
the block, he would feel compelled to circle it three times. With a sigh, 
he turned and walked toward his laboratory at 33-35 South Fifth 
Avenue (now West Broadway), near Bleecker Street 

Entering the familiar loft building in the darkness, he closed a 
master switch. Tube lighting on the walls sprang into brilliance, 
illuminating a shadowy cavern filled with weirdly shaped machinery 
The strange thing about this tube lighting was that it had no 
connections to the loops of electrical wiring around the ceiling. Indeed, 
it had no connections at all, drawing all its energy from an ambient 
force field. He could pick up an unattached fight and move it freely to 
any part of the workshop. 

In a comer an odd contraption began to vibrate silently Tesla’s 
eyes narrowed with satisfaction. Here under a kind of platform, the 
tiniest of oscillators was at work. Only he knew its awesome power. 


Thoughtfully he glanced through a window to the black shapes 
of tenements below. His hardworking immigrant neighbors appeared 
safely asleep. The police had warned him of complaints about the blue 
lightning flaring from his windows and electricity snapping through the 
streets after dark. 

He shrugged and turned to his work, making a series of 
microscopic adjustments to a machine. Deep in concentration, he was 
unaware of the passage of time until he heard a pounding on the door 
at street level. 

Tesla hurried down to greet an English journalist, Chauncey 
McGovern of Pearson’s Magazine. 

“I’m so pleased you could come, Mr. McGovern.” 

“I felt I owed it to my readers, sir. Everyone in London is 
talking about the New Wizard of the West— and they don’t mean Mr. 

“Well, come along up. Let’s see if I can justify my reputation.” 

As they turned to the stairs there came a ring of laughter from 
the street entrance and a voice that Tesla recognized. 

“Ah, that’s Mark.” 

He opened the door again to welcome Twain and the actor 
Joseph Jefferson. Both had come directly from the Player^ Club. 
Twain’s eyes sparkled in anticipation. 

“Let’s have the show, Tesla. You know what I always say” 

“No, what do you say, Mark?” the inventor asked with a smile. 

“What I always say, and mind you they’ll be quoting me into 
the hereafter, is that thunder is good, thunder is impressive, but it is 
lightning that does the work.” 

“Then we’ll get a storm of work done tonight, my friend. 
Come along.” 

“Not to stagger on being shown through the laboratory of 
Nikola Tesla,” McGovern would later recall, “requires the possession of 
an uncommonly sturdy mind 

“Fancy yourself seated in a large, well-lighted room, with 
mountains of curious-looking machinery on all sides. A tall, thin young 
man walks up to you, and by merely snapping his fingers creates 
instantaneously a ball of leaping red flame, and holds it calmly in his 
hands. As you gaze you are surprised to see it does not bum his 
fingers. He lets it fall upon his clothing, on his hair, into your lap, and, 
finally puts the ball of flame into a wooden box. You are amazed to see 


that nowhere does the flame leave the slightest trace, and you rub you* 
eyes to make sure you are not asleep.” 3 

If McGovern was baffled by Tesla’s fireball, he was at least not 
alone. None of his contemporaries could explain how Tesla produced 
this oft-repeated effect, and no one can explain it today. 

The odd flame having been extinguished as mysteriously as it 
appeared, Tesla switched off the lights, and the room became black as 
a cave. 

“Now, my friends, I will make for you some daylight” 

Suddenly; the whole laboratory was flooded with strange 
beautiful light McGovern, Twain, and Jefferson cast their eyes around 
the room, but they could find no trace of the source of the illumination. 
McGovern wondered vaguely if this eerie effect might somehow be 
connected with a demonstration Tesla had reportedly given in Paris in 
which he had produced illumination between two large plates set at 
each side of a stage, yet with no source of light apparent* 

But the light show was merely a warm-up for the inventor's 
guests. Lines of tension on Tesla’s face betrayed the seriousness with 
which he himself regarded the next experiment. 

A small animal was brought from a cage, tied to a platform, 
and quickly electrocuted. The indicator registered one thousand volts. 
The body was removed. Then Tesla, with one hand in his pocket 
leaped lightly upon the same platform. The voltage indicator began 
slowly climbing. At last two million volts of electricity were pouring 
“through” the frame of the tall young man, who did not move a 
muscle. His silhouette was now sharply defined with a halo of 
electricity formed by myriad tongues of flame darting out from every 
part of his body 

Seeing the shock on McGovern’s face, he extended one hand 
to the English interviewer, who described the strange sensation: “You 
twist it about in the same fashion as you have seen people do who 
hold the handles of a strong electric battery The young man is literally 
a human electric ‘live wire.’” 

The inventor leaped down from the platform, turned off the 
current, and relaxed the tension of his audience by tossing off the 
performance as no more than a trick. “Pshaw! These are only a few 
playthings. None of these amount to anything. They are of no value to 
the great world of science. But come over here, and 1 will show you 
something that will make a big revolution in every hospital and home 
as soon as I am able to get the thing into working form.” 

To this day no one has duplicated this demonstration. 


He led his guests to the comer where a strange platform was 
mounted on rubber padding. When he flipped a switch, it began to 
vibrate rapidly and silently 

Twain stepped forward, eager. “Let me try it, Tesla. Please.” 

“No, no. It needs work.” 


Tesla chuckled. “All right, Mark, but don’t stay on too long. 
Come off when I give you the word.” He called to an attendant to 
throw the switch. 

Twain, in his usual white suit and black string tie, found himself 
humming and vibrating on the platform like a gigantic bumblebee. He 
was delighted. He whooped and waved his arms. The others watched 
in amusement 

After a time the inventor said, “All right, Mark. You’ve had 
enough. Come down now.” 

“Not by a jugful,” said the humorist “I am enjoying this.” 

“But seriously, you had better come down,” insisted Tesla. 
“Believe me, it is best that you do so.” 

Twain only laughed. “You couldn’t get me off this with a 

The words were scarcely out of his mouth when his expression 
froze. He lurched stiffly toward the edge of the platform, frantically 
waving at Tesla to stop it 

“Quick, Tesla. Where is it?” 

The inventor helped him down with a smile and propelled him 
in the direction of the rest room. The laxative effect of the vibrator was 
well known to him and his assistants. 4 

None of his guests had volunteered to undergo the experiment 
in which Tesla stood on the high-voltage platform; they never did. But 
now they clamored for an explanation of why he had not been 

As long as the frequencies were high, he said, alternating 
currents of great voltages flowed largely on the outer surface of the skin 
without injury. But it was no stunt for amateurs, he warned. Milliam- 
peres penetrating nerve tissue could be fatal, while amperes distributed 
over the skin could be tolerated for short periods. Very low currents 
flowing beneath the skin, whether alternating current or direct current, 
could kill. 

It was dawn when Tesla finally said good night to his guests. 
But the lights burned on in his laboratory for another hour before he 
locked the doors and walked to his hotel for a brief period of rest 

A Gambling Man 

Nikola Tesla was bom at precisely midnight between July 9 and 10, 
1856, in the village of Smiljan, province of Uka, Croatia, between 
Yugoslavia’s Velebit Mountains and the eastern shore of the Adriatic 
Sea. The tiny house in which he was bom stood next to the Serbian 
Orthodox Church presided over by his father, the Reverend Milutin 
Tesla, who sometimes wrote articles under the nom-de-plume “Man of 

No country in Eastern Europe had greater ethnic and religious 
diversity than Yugoslavia. Within Croatia the Serbian Teslas were part 
of a racial and religious minority The province then belonged to the 
Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Hapsburgs to whose heavy-handed 
rule the people adapted as best they could. 

Ethnic traditions are often most tenaciously observed by 
transplanted minorities and the Teslas were no exception. They placed 
great store on Serbian martial songs, poetry, dandng, and storytelling, 
as well as on weaving and the celebration of saints? days. 

Although illiteracy was more common than not in that time 
and place, it was of a rare mind-expanding kind, for the people both 
admired and cultivated prodigious feats of memory 

In the Croatia of Tesla’s childhood, choices of career were more 
or less limited to farming, the Army or the Church. The families of 
Milutin Tesla and his wife Duka Mandic, who came originally from 
western Serbia, had for generations sent their sons to serve Church or 
Army and their daughters to marry ministers or officers. 

Milutin had originally been sent to Army officers? school, but 
he had rebelled and left to join the ministry This he saw as the only 
career for his sons, Dane (or Daniel) and Nikola. As for their sisters, 
Milka, Angelina, and Marica, the Reverend Tesla hoped that God in 
His wisdom and mercy would provide them with clerical husbands like 

The life of a Yugoslav woman was grueling for she was 
expected not only to do the heavy work of the farm but also to raise 
the children and care for the home and family Tesla always said that 



he inherited his photographic memory and his inventive genius from 
his mother, and deplored that she had not lived in a country and at a 
time when women’s abilities were fairly rewarded. She had been the 
eldest daughter in a family of seven children, forced to take over when 
her mother became blind. Hence she herself got no schooling. But 
either in spite or because of that, she had developed an amazing 
memory, being able to recite verbatim whole volumes of native and 
classic European poetry. 

After her marriage, her own five children arrived quickly The 
eldest was Daniel. Nikola was the fourth. 

Since the Rev. Milutin Tesla wrote poetry in his spare time, the 
boy grew up in a household where cadence always permeated 
ordinary speech and where the quoting of passages from the Bible or 
poetry was as natural as roasting com over charcoal in summer 

In his youth Nikola also wrote poetry and would later take some 
to America with him. He would never permit his poems to be 
published, however, considering them too personal. When he grew 
older, it would delight him to astonish new friends by reciting their 
native poetry (in English, French, German, or Italian) at impromptu 
meetings. He continued to write an occasional poem throughout his 

The child began when only a few years of age to make original 
inventions. When he was five, he built a small waterwheel quite unlike 
those he had seen in the countryside. It was smooth, without paddles, 
yet it spun evenly in the current Years later he was to recall this fact 
when designing his unique bladeless turbine. 

But some of his other experiments were less successful. Once 
he perched on the roof of the bam, clutching the family umbrella and 
hyperventilating on the fresh mountain breeze until his body felt light 
and the dizziness in his head convinced him he could fly. Plunging to 
earth, he lay unconscious and was carried off to bed by his mother. 

His sixteen-bug-power motor was, likewise, not an unqualified 
success. This was a light contrivance made of splinters forming a 
windmill, with a spindle and pulley attached to live June bugs. When 
the glued insects beat their wings, as they did desperately the bug- 
power engine prepared to take off. This line of research was forever 
abandoned however when a young friend dropped by who fancied 
the taste of June bugs. Noticing a jarful standing near, he began 
cramming them into his mouth. The youthful inventor threw up. 

He next endeavored to take apart and reassemble the clocks of 
his grandfather. This too he recalled, came to an end: “In the former 


operation I was always successful but often failed in the latter.” Thirty 
years passed before he would tackle clockwork again. 

Not all his youthful chagrins were scientific in nature. “There 
was a wealthy lady in town,” he later recalled in a brief autobiography 
“a good but pompous woman, who used to come to the church 
gorgeously painted up and attired with an enormous train and 
attendants. One Sunday I had just finished ringing the bell in the belfry 
and rushed downstairs when this grand dame was sweeping out and I 
jumped on her train. It tore off with a ripping noise which sounded like 
a salvo of musketry fired by raw recruits .” 1 

His father, although livid with rage, gave him only a gentle slap 
on the cheek — “the only corporal punishment he ever administered to 
me but I almost feel it now” Tesla said his embarrassment and 
confusion were indescribable, and he was practically ostracized 

However, good fortune threw him a rope, and he was 
redeemed in the eyes of the village. A new fire engine had been 
purchased, along with uniforms for a fire department, and this called 
for a celebration. The community turned out for a parade, there were 
speeches, and then the command was given to pump water with the 
new equipment Not a drop came from the nozde. While the village 
fathers stood in puzzled dismay, the bright lad flung himself into the 
liver and found as he had suspected, that the hose had collapsed He 
corrected the problem, instantly drenching the delighted village fa- 
thers. Long after, Tesla would recall that “Archimedes running naked 
thru the streets of Syracuse did not make a greater impression than 
myself I was carried on the shoulders and was the hero of the day ” 2 

In bucolic Smiljan where his first few years were spent, the 
intense child with the pale wedge-shaped face and shock of black hair 
seemed to live a charmed life. Just as in later years he would work with 
high voltages of electricity without serious harm, he then skated 
through extraordinary dangers. 

With telescopic memory and perhaps some exaggeration, he 
later wrote that he was given up by doctors as a hopeless physical 
wreck three times, that he was almost drowned on numerous occa- 
sions, was nearly boiled alive in a vat of hot milk, just missed being 
cremated, and was once entombed (overnight in an old shrine). Hair- 
raising flights from mad dogs, enraged flocks of crows, and sharp- 
tusked hogs spiced this catalogue of near-catastrophes . 3 

Yet outwardly his parent^ home provided an idyllic pastoral 
scene. Sheep grazed in the pasture, pigeons cooed in a cote, and there 
were chickens for a small boy to tend. Each morning he delighted in 
watching the flock of geese that rose magnificently to the clouds; they 


returned from the feeding grounds at sundown “in battle formation, so 
perfect that it would have put a squadron of the best aviators of the 
present day to shame.” 

For all of this outward beauty however, there were ogres in the 
boy’s mind, the lasting trauma of a family tragedy As far back as he 
could remember, his life had been profoundly influenced by his older 
brother, who was seven at the time of Nikola’s birth. Darnel, brilliant 
and the idol of his parents, was killed at the age of twelve in a 
mysterious accident 

The immediate cause of the tragedy may have been a magnifi- 
cent Arabian horse which had been given to the family by a dear 
friend. It was petted by them and attributed with almost human 
intelligence. In fact this beautiful creature had once saved the father’s 
life in the wolf-infested mountains. But according to Tesla’s auto- 
biography, Daniel died of injuries caused by the horse. Of the incident 
itself, however, no details remain . 4 

Anything Nikola did thereafter, he claimed, seemed dull by 
comparison to the promise of the dead brother. His own achievements 
“merely caused my parents to feel their loss more keenly So I grew up 
with little confidence in myself But I was far horn being considered a 
stupid boy . . .” 

A second mote psychologically intricate version exists as to 
how Tesla’s older brother died. According to the second version, 
Daniel died from a fall down the cellar stairs. Some believe that the boy 
lost consciousness and in his delirium accused Nikola of pushing him. 
He died later horn the head injury probably a hematoma, so this 
account goes. Unfortunately at this date both versions are impossible 
to confirm. 

Much later in his life, Tesla still suffered from nightmares and 
hallucinations related to the death of his brother. The details of the 
experience are never clarified, but the episode recurs and is recounted 
throughout his life as if from various time frames. One can theorize that 
a five-year-old child, unable to tolerate such a burden of assumed 
guilt, might have rewritten the facts in his mind. 

We can only speculate about the degree to which Daniel’s 
death may have been responsible for the fantastic array of phobias and 
obsessions that Nikola subsequently developed. All we can say for 
certain is that some manifestations of his extreme eccentricity seem to 
have appeared at an early age. 

For example, he had a violent aversion to earrings on women, 
especially pearls, although jewelry with the glitter of crystals or sharp- 
planed facets intrigued him. The smell of a piece of camphor anywhere 


In the house caused him acute discomfort. In research, if he dropped 
little squares of paper in a dish filled with liquid, it caused a peculiar 
and awful taste in his mouth. He counted steps when walking, 
calculated the cubic contents of soup plates, coffee cups, and pieces of 
food. If he failed to do so his meal was unenjoyable — hence his 
preference for dining alone. And perhaps most serious insofar as 
physical relationships were to be concerned, he claimed that he could 
not touch the hair of other people, “except perhaps at the point of a 
revolver .” 5 But we cannot precisely date the onset of these or his many 
other phobias. 

According to Tesla, hoping to console his parents for the loss of 
Daniel, he subjected himself at a very early age to iron discipline in 
order to excel. He would be more spartan, more studious than other 
boys, more generous, and in every way superior. And it was while 
denying himself and repressing natural impulses, he later believed, that 
he began to develop his strange compulsions. 

If Tesla’s character did begin to change, the symptoms were 
not entirely apparent until some time after Daniel’s death. “Up until the 
age of eight years,” he wrote, “my character was weak and vacillating.” 
He dreamed of ghosts and ogres, feared life, death, and God. But then 
there did come a kind of change, as the result of his favorite pastime — 
which was reading in his father’s well-stocked library. The Rev. Milutin 
Tesla at one point forbade Nikola to have candles, fearing that he 
would ruin his eyes by reading all night The boy got some materials 
and made his own, stuffed rags in the keyhole and door cracks, and 
then read all night He did not stop reading until he heard his mother 
beginning her arduous rounds at dawn. 

The book that changed his vacillating nature was Abafl or The 
Son of Aba, by a leading Hungarian novelist— a work that “somehow 
awakened my dormant powers of will and I began to practice self- 
control.” To the rigorous discipline then developed, he attributed his 
later success as an inventor 6 

From birth he was intended for the clergy. Although he longed 
to become an engineer, his father was inflexible. To prepare him, the 
Reverend Tesla initiated a daily routine: “It comprised all sorts of 
exercises — as guessing one another’s thoughts, discovering the defects 
of some form or expression, repeating long sentences or performing 
mental calculations. These daily lessons were intended to strengthen 
memory and reason and especially to develop the critical sense, and 
were undoubtedly very beneficial .” 7 


Of his mother he wrote that she was “an inventor of the first 
order and would, I believe, have achieved great things had she not 
been so remote from modem life and its multifold opportunities. She 
invented and constructed all kinds of tools and devices and wove the 
finest designs from thread which was spun by her. She even planted 
the seeds, raised the plants, and separated the fibers herself She 
worked indefatigable from break of day till late at night, and most of 
the wearing apparel and furnishings of the home was the product of 
her hands.” 8 

The brilliant Daniel, before his untimely death, had been 
subject to strong flashes of light that interfered with his normal vision 
during moments of excitement A similar phenomenon plagued Tesla 
during most of his life, beginning in childhood. 

He described it years later as “a peculiar affliction due to the 
appearance of images, often accompanied by strong flashes of light, 
which marred the sight of real objects and interfered with my thought 
and action. They were pictures of things and scenes which I had really 
seen, never of those I imagined. When a word was spoken to me the 
image of the object it designated would present itself vividly to my 
vision and sometimes I was quite unable to distinguish whether what I 
saw was tangible or not This caused me great discomfort and anxiety 
None of the students of psychology or physiology whom I have 
consulted could ever explain satisfactorily these phenomena. . . 

He theorized that the images resulted from a reflex action from 
the brain upon the retina under great excitation. They were not 
hallucinations. In the stillness of night, the vivid picture of a funeral he 
had seen or some other disturbing scene would thrust itself before his 
eyes, so that even if he jabbed his hand through it, it would remain 
fixed in space. 

“If my explanation is correct,” he wrote, “it should be possible 
to project on a screen the image of any object one conceives and make 
it visible. Such an advance would revolutionize all human relations. I 
am convinced that this wonder can and will be accomplished in time to 
come; I may add that I have devoted much thought to the solution of 
the problem.” 10 

Since Tesla’s time parapsychologists have studied subjects who 
purportedly can project their mental images onto rolls of unexposed 
photographic film. The direct transmission of thought onto electronic 
printers also is the subject of recent research. 


To free himself of the tormenting images and to obtain 
temporary relief the young Tesla began to conjure up imaginary 
worlds. Every night he would start on make-believe journeys— see 
new places, cities, and countries, live there, meet people and make 
friends, and “however unbelievable, it is a fact that they were just as 
dear to me as those in actual life and not a bit less intense in their 
manifestations.” 11 

This he did constantly until the age of seventeen, when his 
thoughts turned seriously to invention. Then, to his delight, he found 
that he could visualize with such facility that he needed no models, 
drawings, or experiments, but could picture them all as real in his 

He recommended this method as far more expeditious and 
efficient than the purely experimental. Anyone who carries out a 
construct, Tesla held, runs the risk of becoming bogged down in the 
details and defects of the apparatus and, as the designer goes on 
improving, tends to lose sight of the underlying principle of the design. 

“My method is different,” he wrote. “I do not rush into actual 
work. When 1 get an idea I start at once building it up in my 
imagination. 1 change the construction, make improvements and 
operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me 
whether I run my turbine in my thought or test it in my shopi I even 
note if it is out of balance.” 12 

Thus, he claimed he was able to perfect a conception without 
touching anything. Only when all the faults had been corrected in his 
brain, did he put the device into concrete form. 

“Invariably” he wrote, “my device works as I conceived that it 
should, and the experiment comes out exactly as I planned it In 
twenty years there has not been a single exception. Why should it be 
otherwise? Engineering, electrical and mechanical, is positive in results. 
There is scarcely a subject that cannot be mathematically treated and 
the effects calculated or the results determined beforehand from the 
available theoretical and practical data. . . .” 13 

Despite such claims, Tesla did in fact often make small sketches 
of inventions in whole or in part Later in life his methods of research 
came to resemble more closely the empirical approach of Edison. 

Tesla’s childhood development is confusing because he en- 
hanced his native talent with such rigorous mental discipline that it is 
impossible to separate the innate gifts from the acquired. Some 
people, for example, prefer to think of Tesla’s prodigious memory as 
being in no way abnormal but merely the result of making the most of 


what God gave him. Yet the ability to memorize a page of type or the 
precise relationships and sizes of myriad patterns on a page in the 
wink of an eye — call it photographic, eidetic, or whatever— does seem 
to belong to the specially gifted. Such memory usually begins to wane 
in adolescence, indicating that it is affected by bodily chemical 

In Tesla’s case, perhaps because of his special training in early 
childhood and his subsequent self-discipline, his phenomenal memory 
was retained throughout much of his life. The fact that he began to 
make trial-and-error adjustments of his research equipment in Colo- 
rado when he was middle-aged hints at a waning power 

He claimed that his method of visual invention had one defect 
that kept him poor in a monetary sense, though rich in the raptures of 
the mind: Potentially valuable inventions were often put aside without 
the final time-consuming perfection required for commercial success. 
Edison would never have allowed this to happen and hired many 
assistants to make sure it did not In feet Edison was said to have a 
knack for picking up other inventors? ideas and rushing them to the 
Patent Office. With Tesla it was to be just the opposite. Ideas chased 
each other through his mind faster than he could nail them down. 
Once he understood exactly how an invention worked (in his mind), 
he tended to lose interest for there were always exciting new 
challenges just over the horizon. 

His photographic memory explained in part the lifelong 
difficulty he would experience in working with other engineers. While 
they demanded blueprints, he worked in his mind. In grade school he 
was almost kept back, despite brilliance in mathematics, because he so 
loathed the required drawing classes. 

He was twelve years old before he succeeded in banishing 
disturbing images from his mind by deliberate effort, but he was never 
able to control the inexplicable flashes of light that usually occurred 
when he was in a dangerous or distressing situation, or when he was 
greatly elated. Sometimes he saw all the air around him filled with 
tongues of living flame. Their intensity, instead of diminishing, in- 
creased with years and reached a peak when he was about twenty- 

At sixty he reported, “These luminous phenomena still man- 
ifest themselves from time to time, as when a new idea opening up 
possibilities strikes me, but they are no longer exciting, being of 
relatively small intensity When 1 close my eyes, I invariably observe 
first, a background of very dark and uniform blue, not unlike the sky 


on a clear but starless night In a few seconds this field becomes 
animated with innumerable scintillating flakes of green, arranged in 
several layers and advancing towards me. Then there appears, to the 
right, a beautiful pattern of two systems of parallel and closely spaced 
lines, at right angles to one another, in all sorts of colors with yellow- 
green and gold predominating. Immediately thereafter the lines grow 
brighter and the whole is thickly sprinkled with dots of twinkling light 
This picture moves slowly across the field of vision and in about ten 
seconds vanishes to the left, leaving behind a ground of rather 
unpleasant and inert grey which quickly gives way to a billowy sea of 
clouds, seemingly trying to mould themselves in living shapes. It is 
curious that I cannot project a form into this grey until the second 
phase is reached. Every time, before falling asleep, images of persons 
or objects flit before my view When I see them I know that I am about 
to lose consciousness. If the; are absent and refuse to come it means a 
sleepless night” 14 

In school he excelled at languages, learning English, French, 
German, and Italian as well as the Slavic dialects; but it was math at 
which he starred. He was that unnerving sort of student who lurks 
behind the instructor while problems are being written on the board, 
and quietly chalks down answers the moment the teacher has finished. 
At first they suspected him of cheating. But soon it was realized that this 
was just another aspect of his abnormal ability to visualize and retain 
images. The optic screen in his mind stored entire logarithmic tables to 
be called on as needed. After he became an inventor, however, he 
would sometimes have to struggle for long periods to solve a single 
scientific problem. 

He reported another curious phenomenon that is familiar to 
many creative people, i.e., that there always came a moment when he 
was not concentrating but when he knew he had the answer, even 
though it had not yet materialized. “And the wonderful thing is,” he 
said, “that if I do feel this way, then I know I have really solved the 
problem and shall get what I am after!’ 

Practical results generally confirmed this intuition. It is a fact 
that in later life the machines that Tesla built nearly always worked. He 
might err in his understanding of the scientific principle, or he might 
even mistake the quality of materials used in construction, but 
somehow the machines, as they evolved in his mind and were later 
translated into metal, usually did just what he intended. 

Had there been school psychologists in his childhood, the 


bedeviling images that warred with his sense of reality might easily 
have earned him a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and therapy or drugs 
might have been prescribed — perhaps to “cure” the very fountain of 
his creativity 

When he first discovered that the pictures in his mind could 
always be traced to actual scenes which he had previously observed, 
he believed he had hit upon a truth of great importance. He made a 
point of always trying to trace the external source. In short, before 
Freud’s methods were well known, he was practicing a kind of 
autoanalysis, and after a while this effort grew to be almost reflexive. 

“I gained great facility in connecting cause and effect,” he 
reported. “Soon I became aware, to my surprise, that every thought I 
conceived was suggested by an external impression .” 15 

The conclusion he drew from this exercise was not altogether 
heartening. Everything he did that he had thought to be the result of 
free will he now decided was actually caused by real circumstances 
and events. And if this were true it followed that he himself must be 
merely a kind of automaton. Conversely, anything a human being 
could do, a machine could be made to do, including acting with 
judgment based upon experience. 

From these meditations the young Tesla developed two con- 
cepts that — in rather different ways — were to be important to him in 
later life. The first was that human beings could be adequately 
understood as “meat machines.” The second was that machines 
could, for all practical purposes, be made human. The first idea may 
have done nothing to improve his sociability, but the second was to 
lead him deep into the strange world of what he called “teleautomat- 
ics?’ or robotry 

The Teslas had moved to the nearby city of Gospic when 
Nikola was six. There he entered school and had seen his first 
mechanical models, including water turbines. He built many of them 
and found great pleasure in operating them. He also became fasci- 
nated by a description he had read of Niagara Falls. In his imagination 
a big wheel appeared, run by the cascading waters. He told his unde 
that one day he would go to America and carry out this vision. Thirty 
years later, seeing his idea materialize, Tesla would marvel “at the 
unfathomable mystery of the mind.” 

At ten he entered the gymnasium, which was new and had a 
fairly well-equipped department of physics. The demonstrations per- 
formed by his instructors fascinated him. Here his brilliance in 


mathematics shone, but his father “had considerable trouble in 
railroading me from one class to another” because he could not 
endure the required course in freehand drawing. 

In the second year he became obsessed with the idea of 
producing continuous motion through steady air pressure, and with 
the possibilities of a vacuum. He grew frantic with his desire to harness 
these forces but for a long time groped in the dark. Finally, he recalled, 
“my endeavors crystallized in an invention which was to enable me to 
achieve what no other mortal ever attempted.” It was all part of his 
consuming dream of being able to fly 

“Every day I used to transport myself through the air to distant 
regions but could not understand just how I managed to do it,” he 
recalled. “Now I had something concrete — a flying machine with 
nothing more than a rotating shaft, flapping wings, and ... a vacuum of 
unlimited power !” 16 

What he built was a cylinder freely rotatable on two bearings 
and partly surrounded by a rectangular trough which tit it perfectly. 
The open side of the trough was closed by a partition and the 
cylindrical segment divided into two compartments entirely separated 
horn each other by airtight sliding joints. One of these compartments 
being sealed and exhausted of air, the other remaining open, perpetual 
rotation of the cylinder would result— or so the inventor thought And 
indeed, when he had finished, the shaft rotated slightly 

“From that time on I made my daily aerial excursions in a 
vehicle of comfort and luxury as might have befitted King Solomon,” 
he recalled “It took years before I understood that the atmospheric 
pressure acted at right angles to the surface of the cylinder and that the 
slight rotary effort I observed was due to a leak. Though this 
knowledge came gradually it gave me a painful shock .” 17 

While at this school— for which he was probably too ad- 
vanced — he was prostrated “with a dangerous illness, or rather a score 
of them, and my condition became so desperate that I was given up by 
physicians.” To aid his recovery after there had been a change for the 
better, he was allowed to read. Finally he was asked to catalog the 
books at the local library, a task which, he later recalled, introduced 
him to the earliest works of Mark Twain. To his delight in finding them 
he attributed a miraculous recovery. Unfortunately, the anecdote has 
the ring of apocrypha, for Twain at that time had written almost 
nothing that might have found its way across the ocean and into a 
Croatian library Whatever the truth of the story Tesla liked it and stuck 
by it Twenty-five years later he met the great humorist in New York 


City, told him of the experience, and was amazed, he said, to see 
Twain burst into tears. 

The boy continued his studies at a higher school in Karlstadt 
(Karlovac), Croatia, where the land was low and marshy and where, in 
consequence, he suffered repeated bouts with malaria. Yet his illnesses 
did not prevent him from conceiving an intense interest in electricity 
under the stimulating influence of his physics professor. Every experi- 
ment he saw produced “a thousand echoed in his mind, and he 
longed for experimentation and investigation as a career. 

When next he returned home, a cholera epidemic was raging, 
and he immediately contracted the disease. He was in bed for nine 
months, scarcely able to move, and for the second time it was thought 
he was dying. He remembered that his father sat by his bed, trying to 
cheer him, and that he rallied sufficiently to suggest, “Perhaps I may 
get well if you will let me study engineering.” The Reverend Tesla, who 
had never once relented in his determination that Nikola should enter 
the clergy was now trapped by his own compassion and yielded. 

What happened next is a little unclear. Apparently Tesla was 
summoned to serve for three years in the army, a prospect even more 
repugnant to him than the clergy. But in later life he did not refer to 
this, saying only that his father insisted he spend a year camping and 
hiking in the mountains to regain his health. In the event, he did spend 
a year in the latter fashion and did not serve in the army. His father’s 
family included high-ranking officers, and in all likelihood their 
influence was employed to formalize his release from conscription for 
medical reasons . 18 

His rugged year in the mountains did nothing to subdue his 
fertile imagination. One plan he conceived was to build a tube under 
the Atlantic Ocean through which to shoot mail between the con- 
tinents. He worked out mathematical details of a pumping plant to 
force water through the tube, which would push the spherical 
containers of mail. But he failed to gauge accurately the frictional 
resistance of the pipe to the flow of water. It appeared to be so great 
that he was forced to abandon the plan. Even so, he gained 
knowledge from this that would be applied in a later invention. 

Never one to waste time on trifling schemes, he then con- 
ceived of building a gargantuan elevated ring around the equator. At 
first it would have scaffolding. Once this was knocked away the ring 
would rotate freely at the same speed as the Earth. In this respect it 
would have had its analogs in the synchronized satellites not invented 
until the late twentieth century Tesla’s goal, however, was even more 

A GAMBLING MAN <— >• 18 

ambitious. He proposed next to employ some reactionary force that 
would make the ring hold still with relationship to the Earth. Thus 
travelers could climb aboard it and be sped around Earth at a dizzying 
speed of 1,000 miles per hour— or rather, Earth would race beneath 
them, enabling them to circle the globe in a day while sitting still. 

At the end of this magnificent, if impractical, year of wandering 
and dreaming, he was enrolled in 1875 at the Austrian Polytechnic 
School in Graz. During his first year he had a fellowship from the 
Military Frontier Authority and hence had no financial worries. 
Nevertheless, he crammed from three in the morning until eleven at 
night, determined to complete two years? work in one. Physics, 
mathematics, and mechanics were his main studies. 

He records that the compulsion to finish everything, once 
started, almost killed him when he began reading the works of Voltaire. 
To his dismay he learned that there were close to one hundred 
volumes in small print “which that monster had written while drinking 
seventy-two cups of black coffee per diem.” But there could be no 
peace for Tesla until he had read them alL 

At the end of the year he sailed through nine exams with ease. 
But when he returned the following year his comfortable financial 
situation had evaporated. The Military Frontier was being abolished, 
there would be no fellowship, and the salary of a clergyman would be 
unable to cover the high tuition costs. Tesla would thus be obliged to 
drop out before the school year ended. He made the most of the little 
time he had, however, and it was in this second year that he first began 
to toy with the idea of an alternative to direct-current electrical 

The man responsible for introducing Tesla to the fascinations 
of electrical machinery was a German, one Professor Poeschl, who 
taught theoretical and experimental physics. Although he had “enor- 
mous feet and hands like the paws of a bear,” Tesla found his 
experiments inspiring. When one day there arrived from Paris a direct- 
current apparatus called a Gramme Machine that could be used both 
as a motor and a dynamo, Tesla examined the machine intently; 
feeling a strange excitement It had a wire-wound armature with a 
commutator. While operating, it sparked badly and Tesla brashly 
suggested to Professor Poeschl that the design might be improved by 
dispensing with the commutator and by switching to alternating 

“Mr. Tesla may accomplish great things,” the German scholar 
retorted heavily, “but he will never do this. It would be equivalent to 


converting a steadily pulling force, like that of gravity into a rotary 
effort It is a perpetual motion machine, an impossible idea.” 19 

The young Serb had no idea how it might be done, but instinct 
told him that the answer already lay somewhere in his mind. He knew 
that he would be unable to test until he had found the solution. 

But now Tesla’s money had run out He tried in vain to borrow^ 
and when this failed, he began to gamble. Although he was not a very 
good card player, he became almost professionally skillful at billiards. 

Unfortunately his newfound skills did not save him. Tesla’s 
nephew, Nikola Trbojevich, says he was told by other family members 
that Tesla was “fired” from the college and from the city by the police 
as well “because of playing cards and leading an irregular life.” The 
nephew adds: “His mother got the money together for him to go to 
Prague, as his father would not speak to him. In Prague, where he 
spent two years, he might have gone to the university unofficially but 
the search made by the Czechoslovak Government shows that he was 
not enrolled in any one of the four universities in Czechoslo- 
vakia.... [l]t appears that Tesla was substantially a self-taught man, 
which by no means detracts from his stature. Faraday also was a self- 
taught man.” 20 

In 1879 Tesla had tried to find a job in Maribor but was 
unsuccessful. He was finally forced to return home. His father died that 
same year, and shortly thereafter he returned to Prague in the hope of 
being able to continue his studies. It is believed that until the age of 
twenty-four he remained there, auditing courses and studying in the 
library and so keeping abreast of progress in electrical engineering and 

Probably he continued gambling in an effort to keep in funds, 
but by this time he was well free of any danger of becoming an addict 
Tesla himself has described how he became a gambler and then 
managed to reform “To sit down to a game of cards,” he recalled, 
was for me the quintessence of pleasure. My father led an exemplary 
life and could not excuse the senseless waste of time and money in 

which I indulged I would say to him, ‘I can stop whenever I please 

but is it worthwhile to give up that which I would purchase with the 
joys of Paradise?’ On frequent occasions he gave vent to his anger and 
contempt hut my mother was different She understood the character 
of men and knew that one’s salvation could only be brought about 
through his own efforts. One afternoon, I remember; when I had lost 
all my money and was craving for a game, she came to me with a roll 
of bills and said, ‘Go and enjoy yourself. The sooner you lose all we 


possess the better it will be. I know that you will get over it’ She was 
right I conquered my passion then and there. ... I not only vanquished 
but tore it from my heart so as not to leave even a trace of desire. . . ” 21 
Later in life he began to smoke excessively and also found that 
the consumption of coffee was affecting his heart Willpower tri- 
umphed again, and he banished both vices. He even stopped drinking 
tea. Obviously Tesla distinguished between the exercise of free will 
(which human “meat machined’ lacked), and of willpower or the 
exercise of determination. 

Immigrants of Distinction 

Telegraphs were in operation in the United States and Europe. The 
transatlantic cable had been laid Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone 
was sweeping the Continent when the news came in 1881 that an 
exchange would soon be opened at Budapest It was one of four cities 
chosen to be so honored by Thomas Alva Edison’s European 

Tesla left for Budapest in January of that yean He at once 
found a job, with the help of an influential friend of his uncle’s, in the 
Central Telegraph Office of the Hungarian government It was cer- 
tainly not what the young electrical engineer would have chosen, 
being a drafting position at very low pay However; with his usual zest 
he threw himself into the work. 

Then he was stricken by a bizarre affliction which, for lack of a 
better name, his doctors called a nervous breakdown. 

Tesla’s senses had always been abnormally acute. He claimed 
that several times in boyhood he had saved neighbors from fires in 
their own homes when he was awakened by the crackling of flames. 
When he was past forty and carrying on his lightning research in 
Colorado, he would claim to hear thunderclaps at a distance of 550 
miles, although the limit for his young assistants was 150 miles. 

But what happened during his breakdown was astonishing 
even by Tesla standards. He could hear the ticking of a watch horn 
three rooms away A fly lighting on a table in his room caused a dull 
thud in his eat A carriage passing a few miles away seemed to shake 
his whole body A train whistle twenty miles distant made the chair on 
which he sat vibrate so strongly that the pain became unbearable. The 
ground under his feet was constantly trembling. In order for him to 
rest, rubber cushions were placed under his bed. 

“The roaring noises from near and far,” he wrote, “often 
produced the effect of spoken words which would have frightened me 
had I not been able to resolve them into their accidental components. 



The sun’s rays, when periodically intercepted, would cause blows of 
such force on my brain that they would stun me. I had to summon all 
my willpower to pass under a bridge or other structure as I experienced 
a crushing pressure on the skull. In the dark I had the sense of a bat 
and could detect the presence of an object at a distance of twelve feet 
by a peculiar creepy sensation on the forehead.” 1 

During this period his pulse fluctuated wildly from subnormal 
to 260 beats per minute. The continuous twitching and trembling of 
his own flesh became, in itself, a nearly unbearable burden. 

Understandably the medical profession of Budapest was fasci- 
nated. A renowned doctor prescribed large doses of potassium while at 
the same time pronouncing the ailment unique and incurable. 

Tesla writes, “It is my eternal regret that I was not under the 
observation of experts in physiology and psychology at that time. I 
clung desperately to life, but never expected to recover.” 2 

Yet not only did his health return but, with the assistance of a 
devoted friend, he soon recovered greater vigor than ever. The friend 
was Anital Szigety, a master mechanic with whom Tesla often worked 
and an athlete. Szigety convinced him of the importance of exercise 
and, during this period, the two often went for long walks through the 

In the years since he had left the Polytechnic at Graz, Tesla had 
never ceased to struggle with the problem of the unsatisfactory direct- 
current machine. He later wrote, in his usual flamboyant way, that he 
did not undertake the problem with a simple resolve to succeed. “With 
me it was a sacred vow, a question of life and death. I knew that I 
would perish if I failed.” 

But in fact he already sensed that the battle was won. “Back in 
the deep recesses of the brain was the solution, but I could not yet give 
it outward expression.” 3 

One afternoon toward sunset, he and Szigety were walking in 
the city park, and Tesla was reciting Goethe’s Faust. The sinking sun 
reminded him of a glorious passage: 

The glow retreats, done in the day of toil; 

It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring; 

Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil, 

Upon its track to follow, follow soaring! 

Then, “the idea came like a flash of lightning, and in an instant the 
truth was revealed.” 

Tesla’s long, waving arms froze in midair as if he had been 
seized with a fit Szigety, alarmed, tried to lead him to a bench, but 


Tesla would not sit until he had found a stick. Then he began to draw a 
diagram in the dust. 

“See my motor here; watch me reverse it,” he exclaimed. 

The diagram that he drew would be shown six years later in his 
address before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, introduc- 
ing to the world a new scientific principle of stunning simplicity and 
utility The applications of it would literally revolutionize the technical 

It was an entire new system that he had conceived, not just a 
new motor, for Tesla had hit upon the principle of the rotating magnetic 
field produced by two or mote alternating currents out of step with 
each other. 4 By creating, in effect, a magnetic whirlwind produced by 
the out-of-step currents, he had eliminated both the need for a 
commutator (the device used for reversing the direction of an electric 
current) and for brushes providing passage for the current. He had 
refuted Professor PoeschL 

Other scientists had been trying to invent AC motors but had 
used only a single circuit, just as in direct current, which either would 
not work or worked badly, churning up a great deal of useless, 
vibration. Alternating currents were being used to feed arc lights as 
early as 1878-79 by Elihu Thomson, who built a generator in the 
United States. The Europeans, Gaulard and Gibbs, had produced the 
first alternating-current transformer, which was necessary for increas- 
ing and decreasing voltages in power transmission. George Westing- 
house, an early advocate of AC with great plans for the electrification 
of America, bought the American rights to the Gaulard and Gibbs 

Yet with all this activity there had been no truly successful AC 
motor until Tesla invented his — an induction motor that was the heart 
of a new system and a quantum jump ahead of the times. 

But of course it is one thing to create a significant invention and 
quite another to make people aware of it. Tesla had already begun to 
picture himself as rich and famous, a strong tribute to the power of 
imagination, since his paycheck barely sustained him. As he wryly 
observed, “the last twenty-nine days of the month were the hardest” 
But even hardship now seemed more tolerable for he knew that at last 
he could call himself an inventor. 

“This was the one thing I wanted to be,” he recalled. 
“Archimedes was my ideal. I admired the works of artists, but to my 
mind they were only shadows and semblances. The inventor, I 
thought, gives the world creations which are palpable, which live and 
work.” 5 


In the days that followed he gave himself up entirely to the 
intense enjoyment of devising new forms of alternating-current 

“It was a mental state of happiness about as complete as I have 
ever known in life,” he was to recall. “Ideas came in an uninterrupted 
stream, and the only difficulty I had was to hold them feist 

“The pieces of apparatus I conceived were to me absolutely 
real and tangible in every detail, even to the minutest marks and signs 
of wear. I delighted in imagining the motors constantly run- 
ning. . . .When natural inclination develops into a passionate desire, 
one advances toward his goal in seven-league boots. In less than two 
months I evolved virtually all the types of motors and modifications of 
the system....” 6 

He conceived of such practical alternating-current motors as 
polyphase induction, split-phase induction, and polyphase syn- 
chronous, as well as the whole polyphase and single-phase motor 
system for generating, transmitting, and utilizing electric current And 
indeed, practically ail electricity in the world in time would be 
generated, transmitted, distributed, and turned into mechanical power 
by means of the Tesla Polyphase System. 

What it signified was vastly higher voltages than could be 
obtained through direct current and— with transmission possible over 
hundreds of miles — a new age of electric light and power everywhere. 
Edison’s carbon filament light bulb could bum either AC or DC, but 
electricity couldn’t be carried economically when a generator was 
required every two miles. And Edison was less adaptable than his light 
bulb, being emotionally locked into DC. 

The year was 1882, and Tesla’s ideas were still raging inside his 
head. Having neither the time nor the money for building prototypes, 
he turned his thoughts to the work of the telegraph office, where he 
was soon promoted to engineering. He made several improvements to 
the central-station apparatus (including inventing a telephone amplifier 
which he forgot to patent) and in return, the job gave him valuable 
practical experience. 

Through family friends— two brothers named Puskas — he was 
next recommended for a job with Edison’s telephone subsidiary in 
Paris, where he went in the fall of 1882. 

Of paramount interest to him was to sell the officers of the 
Continental Edison Company on the enormous potential benefits of 
alternating current. The young Serb was bitterly disappointed, 
however, on being told of Edison’s aversion to so much as the mention 
of this subject 


To be young and in Paris simultaneously provided oppor- 
tunities for consolation that he did not overlook. He made new friends, 
both French and American, resumed his old proficiency at billiards, 
walked miles every day, and swam in the Seine. 

At work he was given the job of troubleshooter, to cute the ills 
of Edison power plants in France and Germany. Sent to Alsace on a 
job for the firm, he took along materials, and there built his first actual 
alternating-current induction motor— “a crude apparatus, but [it] af- 
forded me the supreme satisfaction of seeing for the first time, rotation 
effected by alternating currents without commutator.” 7 

Twice during the summer of 1883 he repeated his experiments 
with the aid of an assistant. The advantages erf AC over Edison’s DC 
were so obvious to him that he could not believe anyone could close 
his eyes to them. 

In Strassburg, Tesla was asked to see what could be done with 
a railroad-station lighting plant that the client, the German govern- 
ment, had refused to accept And for good reason. A large chunk of 
wall had been blown out by a short circuit during the opening 
ceremony — in the presence Of old Emperor William I. The French 
subsidiary being faced with a serious financial loss, promised Tesla a 
bonus if he could improve the dynamos and soothe the Germans. 

It was a ticklish operation for a relatively inexperienced person, 
but at least Tesla’s ability to speak German helped. And in the end, not 
only was he able to correct the electrical problems, but he made 
friends with the mayor, one M. Bauzin, whom he then tried to recruit to 
support his invention. The mayor did in fact round up several wealthy 
potential investors to whom Tesla demonstrated his new motor. But 
although it functioned perfectly, the burghers simply could not see its 
practical advantages. 

The disappointed young inventor was only partly consoled 
when the mayor produced some bottles of St. Estephe 1801, left over 
from the last invasion of Alsace by the Germans. No one, he said 
kindly, was more worthy of the precious beverage than Tesla. 

Having successfully completed his job, the inventor returned to 
Paris, looking forward to collecting his bonus. But to his dismay, it did 
not materialize. Of three administrators who were his superiors, each 
passed the buck to the next until Tesla, angered at being cheated, 
summarily resigned. 8 

The manager of the plant, Charles Batchelor, who had been a 
close friend and assistant of Edison’s for many years, recognized the 
young Serb’s abilities. He urged him to go to America where both 
grass and currency were greener. 


Batchelor was an English engineer who had worked with 
Edison when the latter was improving Bell’s first telephone. Edison had 
invented the transmitter that made it possible for voices to be heard 
over long distances, and it was Batchelor who helped him test the 
telephone in a boisterous public demonstration, uttering what a New 
York journalist described as “vociferous remarks and thunderous 

Subsequently, the Englishman and Edison together had super- 
vised the installation of Edison’s first commercial self-contained lighting 
plant on the S.S. Columbia, and the ship had made a brilliant display 
as she sailed down Delaware Bay on her voyage around Cape Horn to 

Thus Batchelor had reason to think he knew Edison well, and 
he wrote Tesla a glowing letter of recommendation, introducing the 
one egocentric genius to the other. As events would prove, however, 
Batchelor understood Edison less well than he supposed. 

“I liquefied my modest assets,” Tesla later recalled, “secured 
accommodations and found myself at the railroad station as the train 
was pulling out At that moment I discovered that my money and 
tickets were gone. What to do? Hercules had plenty of time to 
deliberate, but I had to decide while running alongside the train with 
opposite feelings surging in my brain like condenser oscillations. 
Resolve, helped by dexterity, won out in the nick of time....” 9 

He found enough change for the train and swung aboard. 
Later he talked his way aboard the ship Satumia when no one showed 
up to claim his berth. 

To America, beside the few coins in his pocket, he brought 
some poems and articles he had written, a package of calculations 
relating to what he described (without further elucidation) as an 
insoluble problem, and drawings for a flying machine. To be sure, at 
twenty-eight he was already one of the world’s great inventors. But not 
another soul knew it 

At the Court of Mr* Edison 

At least no one mistook Tesla in his smart bowler hat and black 
cutaway coat for a Montenegrin shepherd or fugitive from debtors? 
prison that June day he strode ashore at the Castle Garden Immigra- 
tion Office in Manhattan. It was 1884, the year the people of France 
gave America the Statue of Liberty As if in response to the words of 
Emma Lazarus, 16 million Europeans and Asians were to sweep into 
this country in a very few years, and they would keep coming. Men, 
women, and even children were needed as fuel to run America’s 
fulminating industrial revolution. It was also the year of the Panic of 

Tesla did not go to the Immigration hiring hall, where new 
arrivals were signed up for labor gangs to slave thirteen-hour days on 
the railroads, in mines, factories, or stockyards. Instead, with his letter 
of introduction to Edison and the address of an acquaintance in his 
pocket, he asked directions of a policeman and set out boldly onto the 
streets of New York. 

Passing a shop where the owner was cursing at a broken 
machine, he stopped and offered to fix it When he had done so, the 
man was so pleased that he gave Tesla twenty dollars. 

As he walked on, the young Serb smiled to himself, remem- 
bering the joke that he had heard on shipboard. A Montenegrin 
shepherd who had just arrived in America was walking down the street 
when he saw a ten-dollar bill. He bent down to pick it up and then 
stopped, saying to himself “My first day in America! Why should I 

Thomas Alva Edison, already graying at age thirty-two, but- 
toned to the chin in one of Mrs. Edison’s hand-sewn, hand-styled, 
gingham smocks, was an ungainly, swinging, stooping, shuffling figure. 
At first glance his plain face might have seemed unremarkable, but it 
never took visitors long to be impressed by the light of fierce 
intelligence and relentless energy that shone in his eyes. 



At the time, Edison was spread uncomfortably thin, even for a 
genius. He had opened the Edison Machine Works on Goerck Street 
and the Edison Electric light Company at 65 Fifth Avenue. His 
generating station at 255-57 Pearl Street was serving the whole Wall 
Street and East River area. And he had a big research laboratory at 
Menlo Park, New Jersey, where a large number of men were employed 
and where the most astonishing things could happen. 

Sometimes Edison himself could be seen there, dancing 
around “a little iron monster of a locomotive” that got its direct current 
horn a generating station behind the laboratory, and which had once 
flown off the rails at a speed of forty miles per hour to the delight of its 
creator. 1 To this laboratory, also, Sarah Bernhardt had come to have 
her voice immortalized on Edison’s phonograph. She had politely 
remarked upon his resemblance to Napoleon I. 

The Pearl Street generating station served a few hundred 
individual mansions of wealthy New Yorkers with electric lights, but 
Edison also supplied direct current to isolated plants in mills, factories, 
and theaters all over the city. Also he was getting more and more 
requests to put lighting plants on ships — a particular headache since 
the danger of a fire at sea was a persistent nightmare. 

And in addition to everything else, he still had to uphold his 
famous reputation as a man of pithy sayings: “Everybody steals in 
commerce and industry” went one of his apothegms. “I’ve stolen a lot 
myself. But I know how to steal. They don’t know how to steal. . . .” 
They were Western Union, for whom he had worked while at the same 
time selling a competitive invention to their opposition. 

There was also his contemptuous saying that he didn’t need to 
be a mathematician because he could always hire them. Formally 
trained scientists might take umbrage, but at this particular stage of 
America’s technological development there was no gainsaying that 
engineers and inventors probably were making more significant 
contributions to national life than their academic contemporaries. And 
just so no one would miss the point, Edison liked to add that he could 
always tell the importance of one of his inventions by the number of 
dollars it brought and that nothing else concerned him. 

Julian Hawthorne observed, “If Mr. Edison would quit invent- 
ing and go in for fiction, he would make one of the greatest 
novelists... ” 

On a particularly trying summer day in 1884, the American 
inventor had rushed straight from an electrical emergency at the 
Vanderbilt house on Fifth Avenue to his Pearl Street generating station. 


The house had caught fire from two wires that got crossed behind wall 
hangings that contained fine metallic thread. The flames had been 
smothered but Mrs. Vanderbilt, hysterical from the ordeal, had learned 
that the source of her problems was a steam engine and boiler in the 
cellar. Now the unreasonable woman was demanding that Edison 
remove the whole installation. 2 

He dispatched a repair crew, sucked a gulp of cold coffee from 
a mug, and tried to think what to do next The telephone rang. Edison 
tilted the receiver to his good ear. 

The manager of the shipping company that owned the S.S. 
Oregon sarcastically demanded to know if he had any plans for getting 
the dynamos repaired for his lighting plant The liner had been tied up 
for days past sailing time and was losing bundles of money. 

What could Edison say? He had no engineer to send. 

He thought enviously of Morgan. Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan 
employed a full-time engineer just to run the private boiler and steam 
engine that was set into a pit below the garden of his Murray Hill 
mansion. It was so noisy the neighbors were threatening to sue. But 
that didn’t bother Morgan; when things got too sticky, he could simply 
pack a supply of his favorite black cigars and set off for a nice long 
cruise on his yacht, the Corsair. 

“I’ll send an engineer over this afternoon,” Edison promised 
the shipping magnate. 

Morgan was the major financial backer of the Edison Electric 
Company, whose direct-current wires were festooned in localized, 
horse-frightening, malfunctioning webs above the streets of New York. 
Although electricity was still little understood by the average financier 
or industrialist, a few like Morgan could see that it was easily the most 
promising development to have come along since Archimedes in- 
vented the screw. Everyone needed energy And soon everyone would 
want Edison’s incandescent lights. 

Electrical engineering was the field for a gifted person of 
scientific or inventive bent to enter, offering not only financial reward 
but the seductiveness and danger of an almost unexplored frontier. 

Cornell University and Columbia College were among the few 
schools in the country to boast fledgling departments of electrical 
engineering. America had only a handful of homegrown experts 
beyond such giants as Edison, Joseph Henry, and Elihu Thomson. 
Industrialists therefore would be glad to draw upon the foreign talent 
pool: Tesla, Michael Pupin, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Batchelor, and 
Fritz Lowenstein, among others. 


Yet it was primarily thanks to Edison’s rough-and-ready inge- 
nuity that the lights were flickering on (and off) in New York City Only 
the year before, Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt had staged the epic ball 
that signaled peace at last between the feuding Astors and the 
Vanderbilts, and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt had sailed down the grand 
staircase of the family mansion dressed as “The Electric Light,” an 
apparition in white satin and diamonds that few at the ball would ever 

So glamorous was the new energy source that a manufacturer 
advertised at Christmas urging fathers to “Surprise the whole family 
with a double socket.” Equally exciting— if puzzling— gifts guarantee- 
ing to put one ahead of the Joneses were an electric corset for Mom 
and a magnetic belt for Dad. Yokels at county fairs were paying for the 
joy of getting a shock from a storage battery 

Edison had no sooner promised his nonexistent engineer to 
the shipping company and cradled the telephone receiver that June 
day than a breathless boy dashed into the shop to report trouble at 
Ann and Nassau streets. A junction box that had been wired by one of 
the inventor^ inexperienced electricians was leaking. The boy vividly 
described how a ragman and his horse had been catapulted into the 
air and then had disappeared down the street at an unbelievable clip. 

Edison bellowed for his foreman: “Get a gang of men, if you 
can find any. Cut off the current and fix that leak.” 

He glanced up and became aware of a tall dark presence 
hovering just inside his office. 

“Help you, mister?” 

Tesla introduced himself, speaking in careful accented English 
and a little louder than usual, for he knew of Edison’s hearing problem. 
“I have this letter from Mr. Batchelor, sir.” 

“Batchelor, eh? What’s wrong in Paris?” 

“Nothing that I know of, sir.” 

“Nonsense, there’s always something wrong in Paris.” 

Edison read Batchelor’s brief note of recommendation and 
snorted. But he gave Tesla a penetrating look. 

“ ‘I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is 
this young man!’ Hmph! That’s some recommendation. What can you 
do?” 3 

Tesla had rehearsed this moment many times on shipboard. 
Edison’s reputation impressed him deeply Here was a man who, 
without formal education of any sort, had invented hundreds of useful 
products. He himself had spent years digging away at books, but for 
what? What had he to show for it? What use was all his education? 4 


Quickly he began to describe the work he had done for 
Continental Edison in France and Germany. And then, before Edison 
could even respond, he moved smoothly into a description of his 
marvelous induction motor for alternating current, based upon his 
discovery of the rotating magnetic field. This was the wave of the 
future, he said. A smart developer could make a thousand fortunes 
with it 

“Hold up!” said Edison angrily “Spare me that nonsense. It’s 
dangerous. We’re set up for direct current in America. People like it 
and it’s all I’ll ever fool with. But maybe I could give you a job. Can you 
fix a ship’s lighting plant?” 

Tesla boarded the S.S. Oregon that same day with his 
instruments and began to make the necessary repairs. The dynamos 
were in bad condition, having several short circuits and breaks. With 
the aid of the crew he worked through the night At dawn the next 
morning the job was finished. 

As he walked back along Fifth Avenue toward the Edison 
shop, he met his new employer and a few of his top men just going 
home to rest 

“Here is our ‘Parisian’ running around at night,” commented 
Edison. 5 

When Tesla said that he had just finished repairing both 
machines, Edison looked at him in silence, then walked away without 
another word. But the Serb with his acute hearing heard him remark at 
a little distance, “That is a damn good man.” 

Edison later told him about another important European 
scientist's arrival in the United States. Charles Proteus Steinmetz, the 
brilliant German dwarf, was almost deported as an indigent alien. He 
somehow squeaked through and went on to become the resident 
genius of General Electric’s first Industrial research laboratory at 
Schenectady He would later strive to develop an acceptable alterna- 
tive to Tesla’s alternating-current system when Edison and General 
Electric needed to play catch-up. 

Tesla’s skills were quickly appreciated by Edison, who gave him 
almost complete freedom in working on the design and operating 
problems of the shop. He regularly worked from 10:30 in the morning 
until 5:00 the following morning, a regimen that won from his new 
boss the grudging comment, “I have had many hardworking assistants 
but you take the cake.” 

Both men had the ability in an emergency to go without sleep 
for two or three days while ordinary mortals crumpled around them. 
Edison’s workers always claimed, however, that he sneaked catnaps. 


Before long Tesla observed ways in which the primitive Edison 
dynamos could be made to work more efficiently, even though limited 
to the production of direct current He proposed a plan for redesigning 
them and said it would not only improve their service but would save a 
lot of money 

The astute businessman in Edison brightened at the mention 
of the latter, but he realized the project Tesla had described was major 
and would take a long time. “There’s fifty thousand dollars in it for 
you— if you can do it,” he said . 6 

For months Tesla worked frenziedly, scarcely sleeping from 
one day to the next In addition to redesigning the twenty-four 
dynamos completely and making major improvements to them, he 
installed automatic controls, using an original concept for which 
patents were obtained. 

The personality differences between the two men doomed 
their relationship from the start Edison disliked Tesla for being an 
egghead, a theoretician, and cultured. Ninety-nine percent of genius, 
according to the Wizard of Menlo Park, was “knowing the things that 
would not work.” Hence he himself approached each problem with an 
elaborate process of elimination. 

Of these “empirical dragnet^’ Tesla later would say amusedly, 
“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at 
once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he 
found the object of his search. I was a sorry witness of such doings, 
knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him 
ninety percent of his labor .” 7 

The well-known editor and engineer Thomas Commerford 
Martin recorded that Edison, unable to find Tesla’s obscure birthplace 
in Croatia on a map, once seriously asked him whether he had ever 
eaten human flesh. 

“Even the most cometic genius has its orbit,” Martin wisely 
wrote, “and these two men are angularly representative of different 
lands of training, different methods, and different strains. Mr. Tesla 
must needs draw apart ... for his own work’s sake.” 

hr so basic a matter as personal hygiene they could not have 
been more different Tesla, afraid of germs, fastidious in the extreme, 
once observed of Edison, “He had no hobby cared for no spori or 
amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most 
elementary rules of hygiene. . . .[I]f he had not married later a woman 
of exceptional intelligence, who made it the one object of her life to 


preserve him, he would have died many years ago from consequences 
of sheer neglect. . . ” 8 

The irreconcilable differences, however, went beyond person- 
ality Edison sensed the talented foreigner’s threat to his direct-current 
system, erroneously thinking DC was vital to the manufacture and sale 
of his incandescent light bulbs. It was the old story of vested interest At 
the beginning Edison himself had met with violent resistance from the 
gas monopolies. He had beaten down the gas companies with his 
natural gift for propaganda, putting out regular bulletins in which he 
gleefully described the dangers of gas-main explosions. His salesmen 
were sent out to cover the country, reporting every incident of 
“industrial oppression” in which worker^ health allegedly had been 
“injured” by gas heat or their vision damaged by gaslights. Now it 
looked as if he might have to lash out against an even newer 
technology than his own. 9 

Tesla, in the odd moments of spate time he could grasp was 
absorbing the history literature, and customs of America, relishing new 
friendships and experiences. He already spoke English well and was 
even beginning to understand the American sense of humor. Or at 
least he thought he did. As events would prove, Edison still had a few 
things to teach him about that 

He enjoyed walking the streets of New York where the new, 
electrically powered trolleys brought congestion and not a little excite- 
ment to already jammed thoroughfares. Half the time the central 
dynamos were broken down. When the trolleys ran, they scared 
pedestrians as much as the passengers. The editor of a newspaper 
solemnly warned that anyone who rode on them might expect to be 
stricken with palsy and should look for no sympathy 

Brooklynites, who for some reason felt especially singled out 
for attack by vicious trolleys, banded together under the slogan of 
“Trolley Dodgers.” Later, when the borough acquired a baseball team 
of its own, it seemed natural to call them the Brooklyn Dodgers. 

It took Tesla the better part of the year to finish redesigning 
i-dison’s dynamos. When at last the job was done, he went to his boss 
to report complete success and, not incidentally to ask when he might 
receive his $50,000. 

Edison swept his high black shoes from his desk and fell 
forward openmouthed. 

“Tesla,” he exclaimed, “you don’t understand our American 
humor” 10 


Once again it seemed that the Serb was to be deliberately 
cheated by an Edison company Angered, he announced he would 
resign. Edison offered a compromise: a $10 raise of his princely salary 
of $18 per week. Tesla picked up his bowler hat and walked out* 

In Edison’s view Tesla was “the poet of science” — his ideas 
“magnificent but utterly impractical.” He warned the young engineer 
that he was making a mistake— and so it appeared for a time. The 
country was still deep in the gloom of financial crises with jobs hard to 

Edison, completely in Morgan’s grip, was himself having 
frustrating financial problems. While the inventor ached for full-speed- 
ahead, the banker insisted on a go-slow policy. He denied Edison even 
the most modest loans for expansion while the House of Morgan’s 
capital was being poured into gigantic railroad acquisitions. 

The process of “Morganization” had become standardized. Of 
everything he touched, the financier soon controlled 51 percent, and 
he insisted on being on the board of directors, however anonymously 
Morganization meant the steady acquiring of companies engaged in a 
similar line of business, the sale of watered stock, and the centralizing 
of power through the elimination of “destructive competition.” 

Morgan, in his forties and near the peak of his power, was 
truculent, arrogant, feared, a loner who cared nothing for his associ- 
ates, his underlings, or the public. He was six feet tall, weighed two 
hundred pounds, and because of an unfortunate skin disease, his nose 
glowed like one of Edison’s newfangled light bulbs. Still, such is the 
power of power, he was a Don Juan whose conquests were openly 
flaunted. 11 

His veneer of culture required frequent art-collecting trips to 
Europe, where he was more discriminating than many parvenus who 
amassed the treasures of the Old World. A staunch supporter of the 
Episcopal Church, he often left his Wall Street offices in the afternoon 
to spend a happy hour booming familiar hymns to the rafters at St 
George’s Episcopal Church, accompanied by his favorite organist 

Plagued by such evils as railroad rate wars and labor riots that 
threatened his rolling stock, he welcomed opportunities to escape from 
his desk. When traveling in America he rode in a $100,000 “palace 
car” attached to the train of his choice. More humble wheels were 
shunted from his path. 

*The Edison camp has a different version: that Tesla offered to sell his AC patents to 
Edison for $50,000, and the latter jokingly declined 


Like Edison he was noted for his pithy sayings. One that Tesla 
would have reason to recall was: “A man always has two reasons for 
the things he does — a good one and the real one.” 

The financial panic of ’84 had caused such insecurity that 
thousands of small investors all over America were going broke. 
Businessmen turned to the powerful House of Morgan, rather than to 
government, for salvation. It looked to the financier as if all his careful 
plans for the centralizing of control over the economic machine might 
be wrecked by labor troubles and the rate wars among the overly 
expanded railroads. 

It was clear to anyone that far too many railroads had been 
built for speculative purposes and that many were facing bankruptcy 
There would have to be a merger. But Morgan was not a man to be 
pushed or to act rashly. Let his competitors sweat He would visit the 
spas of Europe and collect art 

By midsummer of the year Tesla arrived in America, Morgan’s 
leisurely travels had brought him to England, there to receive still more 
unpleasant reports from home of “railroad wrecking” and panic. 
Finally he consented to return and put his formidable brain to work for 
the sake of the Nation. 

Morgan’s solution was simply to summon all the quarreling 
capos to a peace conference aboard the Corsair. 12 All of one day he 
and the captive industrial barons cruised up and down the bay and the 
East River. This was no war of individuals but of competing oil, steel, 
and railroad interests locked in oligarchic struggle. Before the night fell, 
Morgan had “reorganized” them all in such a truly masterful way that 
through clever mergers he had reduced “destructive competition” to a 
minimum. This was the essence of the Morgan touch, a touch that 
would soon make itself felt in the promising new field of electrical 

Meanwhile, Tesla, whose engineering reputation was begin- 
ning to be favorably known, was approached by a group of investors 
and offered a chance to form a company under his own name. He 
leaped at it At last his great alternating-current discovery could be 
presented to the world. Humanity, as he saw it, would be freed from its 
burdens. Unfortunately, his backers had something more modest and 
practical in mind. There was a big market for improved arc lights for 
streets and factories, and this would have to come first 

The Tesla Electric Light Company was formed, with headquar- 
ters at Rahway, New Jersey, and a branch office in New York. One of 


the men involved in this Ann was James D. Carmen, who was to be a 
behind-the-scenes ally of Tesla’s for twenty years or more. He and 
Joseph H. Hoadley would serve as officers in several of Tesla’s 

Working in his first laboratory on Grand Street, the Serb 
developed a Tesla arc lamp which was more simple, reliable, safe, and 
economical than those in current use. 13 The system was patented and 
first put to work on the streets erf Rahway* 

Tesla’s compensation was to have been shares of stock in the 
firm. Now, to his painful surprise at the ways of American commerce, 
he found himself being eased out of the company He wound up with 
a handsomely engraved stock certificate which, because of the new- 
ness of the firm and the recurring economic crises, had little redeem- 
able value. 

Exit Tesla for the third time. 

The slump became a depression, and he was unable to find an 
engineering position. From the spring of 1886 until the following year 
he went through one of the more depressing periods of his life. Toiling 
as a laborer on New York street gangs, he barely managed to survive 
Tesla seldom referred to this painful experience afterward. 

Nevertheless he had made some progress: his arc-lighting 
innovations resulted in the granting of seven patents, and in addition 
he obtained other light-related patents, two of which are particularly 
interesting.t They involve using the loss of magnetism in iron at 
temperatures above 750 degrees Celsius, for transforming heat directly 
into mechanical or electrical energy Like a number of Tesla’s inven- 
tions, they found no immediate use and were forgotten. But quite 
recently in the twentieth century a similar process has gained attention, 
without recognition being given to Tesla’s prior inventions. 

Four years had passed since he had discovered the rotating 
magnetic field and constructed his first alternating-current motor at 
Strassburg. He was beginning to wonder whether the green pastures 
and golden promise of America would continue to elude him. 
Humiliated by recent disappointments, he again brooded upon what 
seemed like his wasted years of education. 

But then his luck took another unexpected turn. Having heard 
of his induction motor, the foreman of the work crew on which the 
inventor was suffering so bitterly took him to meet A. K. Brown, 

♦Patents 334,823, 335,786, 335,787, 336,961, 336,962, 359,954, 359,748. 
♦Patents 396,121, Thermomagnetic Motor, and 428,057, Pyiomagneto-Electric Gen- 
erator See also 382,845 Commutator for Dynamo-Electric Machine. 


manager of the Western Union Telegraph Company, who not only 
knew about alternating current but was personally interested in the 
new idea. 

Where Edison had failed to see the revolution ahead or, more 
likely had seen in it the death knell of his own direct-current system of 
electrification, Brown correctly gauged the future. With his help 
another company was created in Tesla’s name. The Tesla Electric 
Company had the specific goal of at last developing the alternating- 
current system that the inventor had conceived in the park in Budapest 
in 1882 14 

The War of the Currents Begins 

The laboratory and shops that the ecstatic Tesla found for his new 
company were at 33-35 South Fifth Street, only blocks from the 
Edison workshops. The Tesla Electric Company, capitalized with half a 
million dollars, opened for business in April 1887. To the inventor, who 
had waited so long for this moment, it was the fulfillment of a dream. 
He began laboring like one of his own dynamos, day and night 
without rest 

Because it was all there in his mind he needed only a few 
months to start filing patent applications for the entire polyphase AC 
system. This was in fact three complete systems for single-phase, two- 
phase, and three-phase alternating currents. He experimented with 
other kinds too. And for each type he produced the necessary 
dynamos, motors, transformers, and automatic controls. 

Hundreds of central stations were operating in America at this 
time, using at least twenty different combinations of circuits and 
equipment Usually these were centered upon one invention or group 
of them. Thus Elihu Thomson had installed a small alternator and 
transformers in the factory of the Thomson-Houston Company at 
Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1886, supplying incandescent lamps in 
another factory But it was to be another year before he evolved a safe 
system for wiring houses. So, too, George Westinghouse, inventor of 
the railroad air brake, having acquired patents to the AC distribution 
system of Gaulard and Gibbs, set his chief engineer, William Stanley, to 
building a transformer system. It was successfully tested in 1886. 
Westinghouse operated the first commercial AC system in America at 
Buffalo in November of that year and by 1887 had more than thirty 
plants in operation. In addition there was of course the direct-current 
system of the Edison Electric Company, one of the earliest contenders 
in the field. 

But still no satisfactory alternating-current motor existed. 
Within six months after opening his shop, Tesla sent two motors to the 


Patent Office for testing and filed his first AC patents.* In all, through 
1891, he applied for and was granted a total of forty patents.! So 
orignal and sweeping were they that he met with no delay. 1 

And now, recognition was mercifully swift in coming. William 
A. Anthony who had established a course in electrical engineering at 
Cornell University, saw the significance of the Tesla system at once and 
spoke out in its favor. This was not just a new motor but quite possibly 
the foundation of a new technology. The essence of the system, as 
Anthony noted, was the beautifully simple induction motor, which had 
almost no wearing parts to break down. 

The news of such unheralded activity in the U.S. Patent Office 
rocked Wall Street as well as the industrial and academic worlds. At 
Professor Anthony’s suggestion the almost unknown young Serb was 
invited to lecture to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers on 
May 16, 1888. 

Tesla, to his surprise, discovered himself to be a natural and 
brilliant lecturer; and his address became a classic. His subject was “A 
New System of Alternate Current Motors and Transformers.” 2 

Dr. B. A. Behrend, commenting on the presentation, said, “Not 
since the appearance of Faraday’s ‘Experimental Researches in Elec- 
tricity’ has a great experimental truth been voiced so simply and so 
clearly. . . .He left nothing to be done by those who followed him. His 
paper contained the skeleton even of the mathematical theory” 3 

Tesla’s timing could not have been better. His patents were the 
missing key that George Westinghouse had been waiting for. The 
Pittsburgh magnate, a stocky blunt, dynamic fellow with a walrus 
mustache, had a taste for fashionable dress and for adventure. Like 
Morgan he would soon be commuting in his private railway car — at 
first from Pittsburgh to New York but finally to Niagara Falls. In his 
reputation as a plunger, Westinghouse somewhat resembled Edison. 
And like Edison he was a fighter. The two men were to be well- 
matched in the battles ahead. 

Westinghouse was a hard-driving businessman but he was the 
antithesis of a robber baron: he did not see the buying up of politicians 

♦Patents 381,968, 381,969, 381,970, 382,279, 382,280, 382,281, and 382,282 
covered his single and polyphase motors, his distribution system, and polyphase 

tThe remainder of his polyphase system were numbered 390,413, 390,414, 390,415, 
390,721, 390,820, 487,796, 511,559, 511,560, 511,915, 555,190, 524,426, 
401,520, 405,858, 405,859, 406,968, 413,353, 416,191, 416,192, 416,193, 
416,194, 416,195, 445,207, 459,772, 418,248, 424,036, 417,794, 433,700, 
433,701, 433,702, 433,703, 455,067, 455,068, and 464,666. 


and the fleering of the public as essential to success in business. What 
he did see, what he had appreciated from the very first, was the 
potential of a power system that could send currents of high voltage 
surging across the great spaces of America. Like Tesla he had even 
dreamed of harnessing the hydroelectric potential of Niagara Falls. 

He called on the inventor in his laboratory. The two men, who 
shared both the romance of the new energy and a taste for personal 
dandiness, felt a quick rapport Tesla’s workshops and laboratory were 
crammed with intriguing apparatus. Westinghouse moved from ma- 
chine to machine, sometimes bent forward, hands on knees, peering, 
or sometimes with his head tilted, nodding with pleasure at the smooth 
hum of alternating current motors. He needed few explanations. 

There is a story unfortunately without documentation, that he 
then turned to Tesla and offered him $1 million plus a royalty for all of 
his AC patents. If ever made, the offer must have been declined, for 
the records show that for his forty patents Tesla received about 
$60,000 from the Westinghouse firm, which included $5,000 in cash 
and 150 shares of stock. Significantly, however, according to Westing- 
house historical records, he was to earn $2.50 per horsepower of 
electricity sold* Within a few years these royalties would be worth 
such a stupendous amount of money that they would pose a curious 

For the present, however, since the monies received by Tesla 
had to be shared with Brown and other investors in his firm, he was far 
from having joined the super rich. Nevertheless his transition from 
threadbare to fashionable in the social circles of Manhattan was both 
agreeable and slightly dizzying. 

He agreed to work as a consultant for Westinghouse in 
adapting his single-phase system, at a salary of $2,000 per month. 
While the extra income was welcome, it meant moving to Pittsburgh 
just as exciting social invitations had begun to trickle in from members 
of the New York “400.” He left reluctantly. 

As might have been anticipated with a completely new system, 
difficulties lay ahead. The 133-cycle current then used by Westing- 
house was wrong for Tesla’s induction motor, which was built to 60 
cycles. When he so informed the engineers, he succeeded in rubbing 
them the wrong way and only after months of futile and costly 

♦Memorandum of Agreement dated July 7, 1888, between Westinghouse Electric 
Company and Tesla Electric Company. A further agreement between Nikola Tesla 
and tiie Westinghouse Electric Company was signed July 27, 1889. Several earlier 
biographers incorrectly state that Tesla’s royalty was to be only $1 per horsepower 


experiments doing it their way did they finally accept his word. Once 
they had done so, the motor worked exactly as it had been designed to 
do. Sixty cycles has ever since been the standard for alternating 

Tesla soon achieved another milestone as important to him as 
the development of his inventions. On July 30, 1891, he became an 
American citizen. This, as he often told friends, he valued more than 
any of the scientific honors to come to him. Honorary degrees he 
tossed into drawers, but his certificate of naturalization was always kept 
in his office safe. 

After several months he finished his duties in Pittsburgh and 
returned to New York, feeling physically and mentally exhausted. To a 
large extent he felt those months wasted since they had kept him from 
moving ahead with new research. 

In September he left for Paris to attend the International 
Exposition and, from there, in the company of his uncle Petar Mandic, 
departed for Croatia. Petar had once been a monk in the monastery of 
Gomirje near Ogulin, and here the exhausted inventor went to recover 
his health. 

He then visited his sisters and mother. Of the circumstances in 
which his widowed mother then lived or whether he ever contributed 
to her support once he began to earn money in America, unfor- 
tunately no records have been found. That she often dominated his 
thoughts, however, future events were to disclose. 

Edison felt a flood of outrage when he first heard the news of 
Tesla’s deal with Westinghouse for his alternating-current system. At 
last the lines were clearly drawn. Soon his propaganda machine at 
Menlo Park began grinding out a barrage of alarmist material about the 
alleged dangers of alternating current 4 As Edison saw it, accidents 
caused by AC must, if they could not be found, be manufactured, and 
the public alerted to the hazards. Not only were fortunes at stake in the 
War of the Currents but also the personal pride of an egocentric 

By now the bad times had turned to boom. The country was 
expansion-minded. There were steelworks in Pittsburgh, a new 
Brooklyn Bridge, towers reaching toward the sky above Manhattan. 
Railroads, land, and gold were making fortunes for those who 
speculated in growth at the right time. Edison himself had become one 
of the leading industrialists in America, employing almost 3,000 
workers at his various plants. 

Michael Pupin, who later joined with Edison and Marconi to 


form a damaging trinity against his fellow Serb, was among those 
who immediately saw the superiority of Tesla’s AC system. In fact 
he claimed that he came near to being fired from the electrical-engi- 
neering faculty at Columbia University for “eulogizing” this new 

Pupin, a farm boy who had grown up on the military frontier of 
Serbia, had arrived in New York at the age of fifteen with a nickel in his 
pocket (one cent more than Tesla), had shoveled coal for fifty cents a 
ton, and later won scholarships to Columbia University and 
Cambridge. Like Tesla he became one of America’s greatest physicists 
and electrical engineers. 

But it disturbed Pupin that the captains of the electrical, 
industry were paying so little attention to highly trained electrical 
experts. All they seemed to worry about, he charged, was that their 
direct-current systems would not be supplanted by alternating current 
“A most un-American mental attitude!” said this new Amer- 
ican. “It was clear to every impartial and intelligent expert that the two 
systems supplemented each other in a most admirable manner.” 

The patents held by Westinghouse were challenged by a 
number of litigants, primarily rival manufacturers claiming that their 
inventors had anticipated Tesla. Suits were filed in behalf of file 
inventors Walter Bafly Marcel Deprez, and Charles S. Bradley In 
addition, in an attempt to evade the Tesla patents, General Electric 
filed an application for what was called the “monocyclic” system of 
their brilliant mathematician, Charles Steinmetz. Steinmetz himself, 
however; never questioned Tesla’s preeminence in the AC field. 

Such actions confused the public, and even some members of 
the engineering profession never clearly understood that the system 
almost universally adopted was Tesla’s. This confusion is, to some 
extent, still true, despite the sweeping and eloquent ruling in Tesla’s 
favor issued in September 1900 by Judge Townsend of the U.S. 
Circuit Court of Connecticut If for no other reason than that, Judge 
Townsend’s words are worth quoting here: 

It remained to the genius of Tesla to capture the unruly 
unrestrained and hitherto opposing elements in the field of 
nature and art and to harness them to draw the machines of 
man. It was he who first showed how to transform the toy of 
Arago into an engine of power; the “laboratory experiment of 
Baily into a practically successful motor; the indicator into a 
driver; he first conceived the idea tfiat the very impediments of 
reversal in direction, the contradictions of alternations might be 


transformed into power-producing rotations, a whirling field of 

What others looked upon as only invincible barriers, 
impassable currents and contradictory forces he seized, and by 
harmonizing their directions utilized in practical motors in 
distant cities the power of Niagara. 

A decree may be entered for an injunction and an 
accounting as to all the claims in suit 

At West Orange, New Jersey, families living in the neighbor- 
hood of Edison’s huge laboratory began to notice that their pets were 
vanishing. Soon they found out why Edison was paying schoolboys 
twenty-five cents a head for dogs and cats, which he then electrocuted 
in deliberately crude experiments with alternating current. At the same 
time he issued scare leaflets with the word “WARNING!” in red letters 
at the topi The gist of these messages: if the public were not alert, they 
might find themselves being terminally “Westinghoused.” 

Edison had been laying the groundwork for his vendetta for 
two years. He had written to E H. Johnson: “Just as certain as death 
Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in a 
system of any size. He has got a new thing and it will require a great 
deal of experimenting to get it working practically It will never be free 
from danger....” 5 

Now he was accusing Westinghouse of doing what he himself 
had done to the gas companies when he sent agents around the 
country propagandizing the virtues of direct current “None of his plans 
worry me in the least only thing that disturbs me is that W. is a great 
man for flooding the country with agents and travelers. He is 
ubiquitous and will form numerous companies before we know 
anything about it. . . ” 6 

Westinghouse, his eyes on the challenges ahead, paid only 
reluctant attention to Edison’s hectoring but at last he agreed to carry 
on an educational campaign to combat it He would make speeches, 
he said; he would write articles; he would do anything to get the truth 
before the people. He was, he told Tesla, determined to win for his 
company the right to harness Niagara Falls. 

He also had his eye on Chicago and the Columbian Exposi- 
tion to be held there in 1893. Planners were already beginning to 
speak of this event — commemorating the 400th anniversary of Amer- 
ica’s discovery — as the World of Tomorrow, the White City that would 
light up the land. He could not have asked for a better showcase. 

Unfortunately Lord Kelvin, the famous English scientist, had 


been named chairman of the International Niagara Commission 
established to choose the best means of harnessing the Falls, and 
Kelvin had declared himself squarely on the side of old-fashioned 
direct current 

When the commission offered a prize of $3,000 for the most 
practicable plan, about twenty were submitted But the Big Three 
electrical companies, Westinghouse, Edison General Electric, and 
Thomson-Houston, elected not to participate. The commission had 
been set up by a New York group called the Cataract Construction 
Company the president of which was Edward Dean Adams. As 
Westinghouse saw it, this firm was “trying to get one hundred 
thousand dollar^ worth of information for three thousand dollars.” 
When they were “ready to talk business,” he said he would submit his 

As usual in these years of rapid growth, George Westinghouse 
had money problems. It had cost a great deal more than he had 
expected to convert his plants over to the Tesla polyphase system. And 
now when he needed funds for expansion, the bankers were giving 
him mingy responses. 

His only consolation was knowing that Edison was in trouble 
too. The rumors on Wall Street were that, unless Edison consolidated, 
his problems were acute To take his mind off them, he blustered. 
Westinghouse, he said, should stick with his air brakes, for he knew 
nothing about the electricity business. 

Edison’s opening feint in the War of the Currents was to lobby 
legislators at Albany to pass a law limiting electrical currents to 800 
volts. That way he figured, AC would be stopped. But the legislators 
didn’t buy it since Westinghouse countered with a threat to sue the 
Edison firm and others for conspiracy under the laws of the State of 
New York. 

“The man has gone crazy” ranted Edison of his nemesis in 
Pittsburgh, “and is flying a kite that will land him in the mud sooner or 
later” 7 

In addition to waging a virulent campaign in press, pamphlet, 
and by word of mouth, Edison initiated Saturday demonstrations for 
newspaper reporters with strong stomachs. He called them in to 
witness the frightened dogs and cats that schoolboys had snatched off 
the streets being shoved onto a sheet of metal to which were attached 
wires from an AC generator with a current of one thousand volts. 8 

Batchelor sometimes helped with these demonstrations of the 
perils of alternating current Once while trying to hold a wriggling 
puppy he himself received a terrible shock. He described having “the 


awful memory of body and soul being wrenched asunder ... the 
sensations of an immense rough file thrust through the quivering fibres 
of the body.” Still the killing of animals continued. 

Edison was in this fight literally to the death, although not his 
own. He, Samuel Insull, and a former laboratory assistant named 
Harold P. Brown worked out a scheme to finish Westinghouse once 
and for all, or so they thought— through the death of a third party. 

Brown managed by subterfuge to buy a license to use three of 
tiie Tesla AC patents without Westinghouse knowing of their intended 
purpose. Brown then made a trip to Sing Sing Prison. Shortly 
afterward the prison authorities announced that the death house 
would carry out future executions not by hanging but by electrocution, 
and more specifically by alternating current, courtesy of the Westing- 
house patents. 

Prior to the next execution “Professor” Brown went on the 
road with Edison’s traveling show. On stage he electrocuted a number 
of calves and large dogs with AC and referred to having “West- 
inghoused” them. In effect he was asking Americans, “Is this the 
invention you want your little wife to cook dinner with?” 

Public concern had been fired to the desired pitch when New 
York State prison authorities announced the first scheduled electrocu- 
tion of a condemned murderer. One William Kemmler would die on 
August 6, 1890 — Westinghoused. 

Kemmler was strapped into the electric chair and the switch 
thrown. But Edison’s engineers, all their experiments hairing been with 
smaller creatures, had erred. The electric charge was too weak, and the 
condemned man was only half-killed. The dreadful procedure then 
had to be repeated. A reporter described it as “an awful spectacle, far 
worse than hanging.” 9 

Westinghouse through the long, sordid campaign doggedly 
continued to try to set the public straight about AC, citing facts and 
figures to support its safety Luckily he had prestigious help from 
Professor Antiiony at Cornell, Professor Pupin at Columbia, and other 
respected scientists. 

Edison’s associates eventually began to sense that the tide 
might be turning and tried to convince the great inventor that, from the 
standpoint of his own industrial future, he was malting a monumental 
mistake. But stubbornness was one of his weaknesses, and he refused 
to see it It would be twenty years before he would admit that this had 
been his greatest blunder. After all, one of his favorite sayings was: “I 
don’t care so much for a fortune ... as I do for getting ahead of the 
other fellow.” 


But long before Edison was prepared to admit scientific error, it 
was borne in on him that his priorities must be revised His financial 
difficulties had grown extreme, and a merger seemed almost inevitable. 

The Thomson-Houston Company provided an object lesson 
when it was taken over by the House of Morgan and placed under the 
direction of a professional manager named Charles A. Coffin. An apt 
student of J. Pierpont Morgan, Coffin waged price wars against his 
competitors and then, once they were weak, wheedled them into 
lethal mergers. Along the way, Thomson and Houston lost control of 
their firm. 

As Westinghouse later described an interview with Coffin to 
Clarence W. Barron: “He [Coffin] told me how he ran his stock down 
and deprived both Thomson and Houston of the benefits of an 
increased stock issue. He was enabled, by the decline in stock which 
he had forced, to make a new contract with both Thomson and 
Houston, by which they waived their rights to take new stock in 
proportion to their holdings under their agreement with the Company: 
“I said to Coffin, ‘You tell me how you treated Thomson and 
Houston; why should I trust you ... ?”’ 10 

Edison, however, was not granted the luxury of deciding 
whether he trusted Coffin. On February 17, 1892, The Electrical 
Engineer announced a consolidation of the Edison Electric Company 
and the Thomson-Houston Company, with none of the founders? 
names in the new title. Henceforth the new firm would be called 
General Electric Company, with Coffin as its president 

In the same article The Electrical Engineer has written: 

It seems quite reasonable to expect as many do, and as rumor 
has it that absorption of the Westinghouse Company into the 
proposed new corporation will soon follow. The provision of 
$16,600,000 of stock — $6,000,000 of which is in preferred 
shares— remaining to the treasury after taking up the Edison 
and Thomson-Houston stocks, is thought by many to imply 
the use of a considerable portion of it in taking over the 
Westinghouse Company when convenient; but no definite 
information of such a plan has been made public. 

In short Morgan was close to realizing his ambition of 
controlling the fiiture electrification of America, both AC and DC, 
through the elimination of “costly competition.” He meant to use the 
same tactics that had worked so well in centralizing the control of the 
railroads, of oil, coal, and steel. Clearly, the best growth investments of 


the future would be in controlling the manufacture of all electrical 
appliances and machinery and providing the related services that 
eventually would become known as “public utilities.” But to do this he 
would need the Tesla patents. 

Coffin, in his reckless interview with Westinghouse, had re- 
vealed that he had been “cutting prices fearfully” in order to “knock 
out” other electrical firms. The important thing, he advised, man-to- 
man, was to get one’s own system installed before the competition did 
so, whether it be for running electric trolleys or whatever; after that, 
any changes would be prohibitively expensive. “The users willingly 
pay our price as they cannot afford to change the system,” he 
exulted. 11 He had been talking to precisely the wrong person, however, 
for Westinghouse was committed to proving that a superior system 
could indeed knock out an entrenched but inferior one. 

Coffin had spoken earnestly of the advantages of “boodle.” He 
had asked Westinghouse to raise the price of his street lights from $6 to 
$8, as his own firm had done, since this would enable him to pay $2 in 
boodle to the aldermen and other politicians without losing a cent of 
profit 12 But when it became clear that Westinghouse was not to be a 
willing partner to his own demise, General Electric Company and the 
House of Morgan turned upon him where he was most vulnerable, in 
the money markets. 

“From all the stock-market sub-cellars and rat-holes of State, 
Broad, and Wall streets crept those wriggling, slimy snakes of bastard 
rumors,” wrote Thomas Lawson in Frenzied Finance. ‘“George 
Westinghouse has mismanaged his companies ... George Westing- 
house ... is involved beyond extrication unless by consolidation with 
the General Electric....’ There came a crash in the Westinghouse 

Lawson reports that he himself was called in as “an expert in 
stock market affairs?’ to assist Westinghouse, and that he drove a heroic 
bargain. First, there must be a consolidation of some sort Westing- 
house was indeed overextended in his drive to put the country on an 
alternating-current system. 

The financial advisers arranged a merger with several smaller 
companies including U.S. Electric Company and the Consolidated 
Electric Light Company The new firm would be known as the 
Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company 

So far, so good, but there was one problem: Nikola Tesla’s 
patent royalties under the generous arrangement with Westinghouse 
would sink any ship, according to the investment bankers. One source 
has stated he was told by Tesla that Westinghouse had paid him $1 


million in advance royalties. 13 Only four years after the contract was 
signed, it was rumored that the accrued royalties could be in the 
neighborhood of $12 million. No one seemed to know exactly, least of 
all Tesla. As utilities expanded, royalties would be collected on 
powerhouse equipment and motors and on every application of the 
alternating-current system patents. Tesla stood to become a billionaire, 
one of the world’s wealthiest men. 

“Get rid of that royalty contract, Westinghouse,” the invest- 
ment banker advised Otherwise the stability of the reorganization 
would be emperiled 

This Westinghouse was loath to do. He himself was an 
inventor and believed in royalties. Besides, he argued, royalties were 
paid for by the customers and included in costs of production. But the 
bankers left him with no choice. 

Reluctantly he called on the inventor in what must have been 
one of the most embarrassing confrontations of his life. (In the official 
biography of George Westinghouse the episode goes unmentioned.) 
The contract between Tesla and Westinghouse had been made in 
good faith on the part of both men. Tesla, had he chosen, undoubtedly 
could have gone to court and had it upheld But to what end if 
Westinghouse were to lose his firm? 

As usual, George Westinghouse went directly to the point 
Explaining the problem, he said “Your decision determines the fate erf 
tire Westinghouse Company.” 14 

Tesla’s absorption in his new fields of research had been total 
Money was something he spent freely when he had it, but he seldom 
knew how much was available. To him the value of money consisted in 
what one did with it rather than in any intrinsic worth. 

“Suppose,” he asked, “I should refuse to give up my contract; 
what would you do then?” 

Westinghouse spread his hands. “In that event you would have 
to deal with the bankers, for I would no longer have any power in the 

“And if I give up the contract, you will save your company and 
retain control? You will proceed with your plans to give my polyphase 
system to the world?” 

“I believe your polyphase system is the greatest discovery in 
the field of electricity,” said Westinghouse. “It was my efforts to make it 
available to the world that brought on the present difficulty. But I 
intend to continue, no matter what happens, with my original plans to 
put the country on an alternating-current basis.” 


Being no businessman, Tesla could not refute Westinghouse’s 
assessment of his financial situation; but he trusted the industrialist 
“Mr. Westinghouse,” he said, “you have been my friend, you believed 
in me when others had no faith; you were brave enough to go ahead 
... when others lacked courage; you supported me when even your 
own engineers lacked vision to see the big things ahead that you and I 
saw; you have stood by me as a friend. . . .You will save your company 
so that you can develop my inventions. Here is your contract and here 
is my contract— I will tear both of them to pieces, and you will no 
longer have any troubles from my royalties. Is that sufficient?” 15 

The Westinghouse Company’s annual report of 1897 states 
that Tesla was paid $216,600 for outright purchase of his patents at this 
point to avoid the payment of royalties. 

By destroying the contract, Tesla not only relinquished his 
claim to millions of dollars in already earned royalties but to all that 
would have accrued in the future. In the industrial milieu of that or any 
other time it was an act of unprecedented generosity if not foolhardi- 
ness. He was to live well for another decade but thereafter would be 
plagued by a chronic shortage of research and developmental capital 
How many discoveries were thus to be lost to society can only be 

Westinghouse returned to Pittsburgh, where the mergers and 
refinancing were arranged. His company went on to become a giant, 
and he kept his promise to Tesla Years later in a formal testimonial to 
the industrialist, Tesla wrote: “George Westinghouse was, in my 
opinion, the only man on this globe who could take my alternating- 
current system under the circumstances then existing and win the 
battle against prejudice and money power He was a pioneer of 
imposing stature, one of the world’s true noblemen of whom America 
may well be proud and to whom humanity owes an immense debt of 
gratitude.” 16 

Tesla had returned from his months in Pittsburgh depressed 
not only by his disagreements with the Westinghouse engineers but 
because of several lawsuits just beginning over his alternating-current 

“Hundreds of electrical manufacturers pirated the Tesla pat- 
ents,” John J O’Neill noted in a private communication, “and when 
Westinghouse had them completely upheld in the courts and smashed 
down on the trespassers, all of the hate of the losers was vented on 


Some attacks went beyond ample piracy Claims were ad- 
vanced in behalf of Professor Galileo Ferraris of the University of Turin 
as the first to have described a method of producing a revolving 
magnetic field. He apparently had given some thought to the problem 
in 1885 but had made no progress. Tesla, by comparison, had made 
his discovery of the rotating magnetic field in 1882 and within two 
months had evolved the complete system, which included all the 
apparatus he later patented. He had actually built his first induction 
motor. Ferraris, however, had concluded that the principle could never 
be used for making a practical motor. 

He nevertheless had been publicized by The Electrician in 
London as the man most likely to invent one. When the editors 
learned of Tesla’s invention, they erroneously assumed and reported 
that he hatf been inspired by the concept of Ferraris. 

Because of the vicious rivalry between Edison and Westing- 
house, the former faction seized on any opportunity to smear Tesla. 
The specious argument over Ferraris seemed as good an excuse as 

Two prominent immigrants (although they would later be allied 
with the Edison camp) rose at once to Tesla’s defense. Steinmetz, in a 
paper for the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, said: “Ferraris 
built only a little toy, and his magnetic circuits, so far as I know, were 
completed in air, not in iron, though that hardly makes any difference.” 

As for Professor Michael Pupin, he wrote to Tesla: “The 
Ferraris humbug has been indulged in by your competitors to a 
disgraceful extent As I understand it there is a gigantic step from 
Ferrari^ whirling pool to Tesla’s whirling magnetic field. The two things 
seem to me radically different and ought to be pointed out and shown 
in their true lights. . . ” 17 

Tesla, deep in his research, was scarcely aware of the corrosive 
antagonisms raging around his inventions. He was immersed in a 
whole new world of electrical phenomena. 

Westinghouse, meanwhile, when he was not testifying or 
speechifying, was aggressively extending the front lines of his industrial 
domain. Out in the little mining town of Telluride, Colorado, the first 
commercial use was made of Tesla motors and generators built by 
Westinghouse. They were installed in 1891 to furnish electricity for the 
mining camps. 18 

Order of the Flaming Sword 

As long as the world left him alone in his Manhattan laboratory to 
pursue his love affair with electricity, Tesla was the happiest man alive. 
In the waning years of the 1880’s and the early 1890’s he had enjoyed 
such a brief period. But when he delivered four blockbusting lectures 
in America and Europe in 1891-92, he became, in a matter of months, 
the world’s most celebrated scientist, and his private life was never the 
same again. 

A weird, storklike figure on the lecture platform in his white tie 
and tails, he was nearly seven feet tall for he wore thick cork soles 
during his dangerous demonstrations. As he warmed to his act, his 
high-pitched, almost falsetto voice would rise in excitement The 
audience, riveted by the cadenced flow of words, the play of lights and 
magic, would stare as in a trance. 

The language of science then being completely inadequate, 
Tesla described visual effects in the style of a poet in love with the 
sheer dance of flame and light Indeed it seemed as if these were as 
significant to him as tapping the energy within. Yet no scientist could 
fault him on technical details. 

Despite the fireworks, philosophy, and poetry, his every scien- 
tific claim was based on experiments he had personally repeated at 
least twenty times. Each item of equipment was new, designed by him 
and usually fabricated in his own shop. The same demonstration was 
seldom repeated from one appearance to another. 

As to the inadequacy of the scientific terminology of his day — 
the luminous feathery discharge of electricity in a vacuum tube that he 
referred to in his lectures as a brush was in fact a beam of electrons and 
ionized gas molecules. He did not say, “Now I shall describe the 
cyclotron,” for the word was nonexistent; but what he would describe 
and what he would demonstrate was thought by some who were 
knowledgable to have been an early ancestor of the atom smasher. 

Nor did he say, “Now I shall describe the point electron 
microscope. Now I shall describe cosmic rays. Now I shall describe the 



radio vacuum tube. Now I shall describe X ray.” When he described a 
vacuum bulb which turned out to be the forerunner of the Audion, 
radio was called wireless, and wireless was scarcely in its infancy When 
he described blurred photographic plates in his laboratory, and visible 
and invisible light, not even Roentgen knew what X rays were or might 
be used for. And when Tesla created a flame that he described as 
“burning without consuming material or even a chemical reaction,” he 
probably was venturing into plasma physics. 

“Phenomena upon which we used to look as wonders baffling 
explanation, we now see in a different light,” he told the American 
Institute of Electrical Engineers. “The spark of an induction coil, the 
glow of an incandescent lamp, the manifestations of the mechanical 
forces of currents and magnets are no longer beyond our grasp; 
instead of the incomprehensible, as before, their observation suggests 
now in our minds a simple mechanism, and although as to its precise 
nature all is still conjecture, yet we know that the truth cannot be much 
longer hidden, and instinctively we feel that the understanding is 
dawning upon us. We still admire these beautiful phenomena, these 
strange forces, but we are helpless no longer. . . 

He spoke of the mysterious fascination of electricity and 
magnetism, “with their seemingly dual character, unique among the 
forces in nature, with their phenomena of attractions, repulsions, and 
rotations, [their] strange manifestations of mysterious agents,” that 
stimulate and excite the mind. 

But how to explain them? 

“An infinitesimal world, with the molecules and their atoms 
spinning and moving in orbits, in much the same manner as celestial 
bodies, carrying with them and probably spinning with them ether, or 
in other words, carrying with them static charges,” he said, “seems to 
my mind the most probable view, and one which, in a plausible 
manner, accounts for most of the phenomena observed. The spinning 
of the molecules and their ether sets up the ether tensions or 
electrostatic strains; the equalization of ether tensions sets up other 
motions or electric currents, and the orbital movements produce the 
effects of electro and permanent magnetism.” 

It had been only three years since, speaking before this same 
professional group, he had introduced the power system that was to 
revolutionize industry and bring light to even the most remote homes. 
Now he described his research into the very nature of electricity by way 
of light and luminous effects, holding his audience in thrall. 


The stage from which he spoke was illuminated with stunning 
displays of gas-filled tube lights, some of which had been made 
phosphorescent to enhance their brilliance and for some of which he 
used uranium glass. They were the forerunners of today’s fluorescent 
lights. Tesla never patented or commercialized them, and they did not 
appear on the market until fifty years later. For his lecture, charac- 
teristically, he had twisted the tubes into names — not only those of 
great scientists but of his favorite Serbian poets. 

Turning to a table, the spellbinder carefully selected a delicate 
prop. “Here is a simple glass tube from which the air has been partially 
exhausted,” he said. “I take hold of it; I bring my body in contact with a 
wire conveying alternating currents of high potential, and the tube in 
my hand is brilliantly lighted. In whatever position I may put it, 
wherever I move it in space, as far as I can reach, its soft, pleasing light 
persists with undiminished brightness.” 2 

As the tube he held began to glow — demonstrating among 
other things a political message about the safety of alternating 
current — “Professor” Brown, the Edison agent, arose unnoticed and 
hurried from the hall. His boss would chew nails when he heard about 
this razzle-dazzle. But George Westinghouse, who had come from 
Pittsburgh just to hear the lecture, leaned forward, shook his head, 
and smiled. 

Tesla next revealed his wireless or electrodeless discharge 
lamps inductively coupled to a high-frequency power supply, which he 
had invented after discovering that gases at reduced pressure exhibited 
extremely high conductivity These, as he showed, could be moved 
anywhere in the room yet would eerily continue to bum. He would 
never get around to making them practicable for commercial use; but 
they are still being investigated more than eighty years later, as shown 
by patents recently issued. 

Roland J. Morin, the chief engineer of Sylvania GTE Interna- 
tional, New York, later wrote: “I am sure that [Tesla’s] demonstration of 
these light sources at the Chicago World’s Fair [1893] stimulated D. 
McFarlan Moore to develop and announce commercial realization of 
the fluorescent lamp. . . .” 

Gracious in paying tribute to scientists who had paved the way, 
Tesla expressed his debt to Sir William Crookes who in the 1870’s had 
built a vacuum tube with a pair of electrodes inside. Alluding to “that 
same vague world” (later identified as a stream of electrons), he spoke 
of the effects obtained with alternating currents of high voltage and 


frequency: “We observe how the energy of an alternating current 
traversing the wire manifests itself— not so much in the wires as in the 
surrounding space — in the most surprising manner, taking the forms of 
heat, light, mechanical energy and, most surprising of all, even 
chemical affinity” 

His long fingers deftly chose another propi 

“Here is an exhausted bulb suspending from a single wire. ... I 
grasp it, and a platinum button mounted in it is brought to vivid 

“Here, attached to a leading wire, is another bulb which, as I 
touch its metallic socket, is filled with magnificent colors of phos- 
phorescent light 

“Here again,” he said, “insulated as I stand on this platform, I 
bring my body in contact with one of the terminals of the secondary of 
this induction coil . . . and you see streams of light break forth from its 
distant end, which is set in violent vibration 

“Once more, I attach these two plates of wire gauze to the 
terminals of the coil. [T]he passage of the discharge ... assumes the 
form of luminous streams.” 

It was impossible with an induction coil, he said, to pursue any 
novel investigation without coming upon some interesting or useful 
fact He began to describe effects he had achieved in the laboratory — 
“large pinwheels, which in the dark present a beautiful appearance 
owing to the abundance of the streams,” and of how he had sought to 
produce “a queer flame which would be rigid.” 

To his listeners it sometimes seemed as if visual excitement 
were as important to him as useful results; but then, in the next breath 
he would present them one “useful fact” after another. 

For example, he showed them a motor that ran on only one 
wire, the return circuit occurring wirelessly through space. And, 
renewing his spell over men who prided themselves on common sense 
and resistance to flimflammery he spoke of the possibility of running 
motors without any wires at all. He spoke of energy in space, free for 
the taking. 

“It is quite possible,” he said, “that such ‘no-wire’ motors, as 
they might be called, could be operated by conduction through the 
rarefied air at considerable distances. Alternating currents, especially of 
high frequencies, pass with astonishing freedom through even slightly 
rarefied gases. The upper strata of the air are rarefied. To reach a 
number of miles out into space requires the overcoming of difficulties 
of a merely mechanical nature. There is no doubt that with the 
enormous potentials obtainable by the use of high frequencies and oil 


insulation, luminous discharges might be passed through many miles 
of rarefied air, and that, by thus directing the energy of many hundreds 
of thousands of horsepower, motors, or lamps might be operated at 
considerable distance from stationary sources. But such schemes are 
mentioned merely as possibilities. We shall have no need to transmit 
power in this way We shall have no need to transmit power at all. Ere 
many generations pass, our machinery will be driven by a power 
obtainable at any point of the universe. This idea is not novel — We 
find it in the delightful myth of Antheus, who derives power from the 
earth; we find it among the subtle speculations of one of your splendid 
mathematicians.... Throughout space there is energy. Is this energy 
static or kinetic? If static, our hopes are in vain; if kinetic — and this we 
know it is, for certain — then it is a mere question of time when men will 
succeed in attaching their machinery to the very wheelwork of 
nature ....” 3 

The star exhibit of Tesla’s show, however (to be elaborated on 
in his later lectures in England and France), was a single six-inch 
almost empty vacuum tube that he called the carbon-button lamp. 
With this research tool he explored whole new areas of scientific 
discovery 4 

It was a small glass globe with a tiny piece of solid material 
mounted on the end of a wire serving as a single-wire connection with 
the high-frequency current source. The central “button” of material 
electrostatically propelled the surrounding gas molecules toward the 
glass globe. They then were repelled back toward the button, striking it 
and heating it to incandescence as the process occurred millions of 
times each second. 

Depending on the strength of the source, extremely high 
temperatures could be produced that vaporized or melted most 
substances instantly Tesla experimented with buttons composed of 
diamonds, rubies, and zirconia. He finally found that carborundum 
did not vaporize as rapidly as other hard materials or make deposits 
inside the globe — hence the name, carbon-button lamp. 

The heat energy of the incandescent button was transferred to 
the molecules of the slight amount of gas in the tube, causing them to 
become a source of light twenty times brighter for the amount of 
energy consumed than Edison’s incandescent lampi 

With hundreds of thousands of volts of high-frequency currents 
surging through his body he held in his hand this magnificent creation, 
a working model of the incandescent sun. With it he demonstrated 
what he believed to be cosmic rays. The sun, he reasoned, is an 
incandescent body carrying a high electrical charge and emitting 


showers of tiny particles, each of which is energized by its great 
velocity. But, not being enclosed in a glass, the sun permits its rays to 
strike out into space. 

Tesla was convinced that all space was filled with these 
particles, constantly bombarding Earth or other matter, just as in his 
carbon-button lamp the hardest material was shattered into atomic 

One of the manifestations of such bombardment he said, was 
the aurora borealis. Although no record exists of his methods, he 
announced that he had detected such cosmic rays, measured their 
energy, and found them moving with a velocity of hundreds of millions 
of volts. 5 

The more sober physicists and engineers in his audience, 
hearing such outrageous claims, kept their counsel. But where was the 

Today it is known that thermonuclear reaction on tire sun 
causes the radiation of X rays, ultraviolet, visible, and infrared rays as 
well as radio waves and solar particles at the rate of 64 million watts (or 
volt-amperes) per square meter of the sun’s surface. 

Cosmic rays, according to recent knowledge, come in many 
shapes and forms and are the result of the formation and decay of 
particles as well as the high-energy collision of particles. They come 
not only from the sun but from the stars and novae or exploding stars. 

Solar electrons and protons reaching the vicinity of the Earth 
and trapped by Earth’s magnetic field form the Van Allen radiation 
belts. Solar radiation, visible and invisible, determines the surface 
temperatures of the planets. Auroral displays are caused by solar- 
emitted particles that collide with the atoms in our upper atmosphere. 

Five years after Tesla’s lecture Henri Becquerel, the French 
physicist, was to discover the mysterious rays emitted by uranium. 
Marie and Pierre Curie confirmed his work with their study of radium, 
whose uranium atoms were exploding spontaneously. Tesla had 
believed, wrongly, that cosmic rays were the simple cause of the 
radioactivity of radium, thorium, and uranium. But he was entirely 
correct in predicting that bombardment with “cosmic rays,” i.e., high- 
energy subatomic particles, could make other substances radioactive, 
as was finally demonstrated by Irene Curie and her husband Frederic 
Joliot in 1934. 

Although the scientific world of Tesla’s time did not accept his 
theory of cosmic rays, two scientists who later achieved fame in this 
field would acknowledge a debt to his inspiration. Thirty years were to 
pass before Dr. Robert A. Millikan rediscovered cosmic rays. He 


believed them to be, like light, vibratory— that is, that they were 
photons rather than charged particles. This led to one of the scientific 
dog fights of the 1940’s between Nobel laureate Millikan and Nobel 
laureate Arthur H. Compton, who believed— and indeed was ad- 
judged to have proved— that cosmic rays consisted of high-velocity 
particles of matter, just as Tesla had described them. 

Both Millikan and Compton expressed their debt to the 
intuitiveness of their Victorian predecessor. But science was to march 
on inexorably proving cosmic rays more varied and complex than any 
of them had guessed. 

The strange little carbon-button lamp with which Tesla dazzled 
his audience at Columbia College on May 20, 1891, also embodied 
the concept of the point electron microscope. It produced electrified 
particles shooting out in straight lines from a tiny active spot on the 
button, kept at high potential. On the spherical surface of the globe 
these particles reproduced in phosphorescent images the pattern of the 
microscopically tiny area from which they were issuing. 6 

lire only limit to the degree of magnification that could be 
obtained was the size of the glass sphere. The greater the radius, tire 
greater the magnification. Since electrons are smaller than light waves, 
objects too tiny to be seen by light waves may nevertheless be 
enlarged by the patterns produced by emitted electrons. 

Vladimir R. Zworykin is credited with having developed the 
election microscope in 1939. Yet Tesla’s description of the effect 
achieved with his carbon-button lamp when he used extremely high 
vacuum stands with hardly a change in wording for a description of the 
million-magnification point electron microscope. 7 

Another effect produced by the carbon-button lamp derived 
from the phenomenon of resonance. In describing the principle of 
resonance, Tesla often used analogies of a wine glass and a swing. A 
wine glass that is broken by a violin’s note is shattered because the 
vibrations of the air that are produced by the violin happen to be of the 
same frequency as the vibrations of the glass. 

A person in a swing may weigh two hundred pounds and a 
weak boy pushing it may weigh but fifty and may push but a pound. 
Yet if he times his pushes to coincide with the turn of the swing from 
him, and keeps adding a pound each time, he will eventually have to 
stop to avoid hurling the occupant of the swing out into space. 

“The principle cannot fail,” Tesla would say “It is necessary 
only to keep adding a little force at the right time.” 

And that is why Tesla’s carbon-button lamp may be described 
as an ancestor of the atom-smasher Uang the hard carborundum 


button in a nearly air-exhausted globe, connecting it to a source of 
high, rapidly alternating current, he caused the remaining molecules of 
air to become charged, thus to be repelled at increasingly high 
velocities from the button to the glass globe, and thence back to the 
button, shattering the carbon beads in the button into atomic dust 
which joined the oscillating air molecules to cause even further 

“If the frequency could be brought high enough,” he said, “the 
loss due to the imperfect elasticity of the glass would be entirely 
negligible. . . .” 8 

In 1939 Ernest Orlando Lawrence of the University of Califor- 
nia, Berkeley won the Nobel Prize for his invention of the cyclotron. 
According to one account: “In 1929, Ernest Orlando Lawrence . . . 
read a paper by a German physicist who had managed, by giving two 
electrostatic impulses instead of one, to impart to charged potassium 
atoms in a vacuum tube twice the energy they would normally get 
from a given voltage. Lawrence wondered: if the impulse could be 
doubled, could it not be tripled or multiplied any number of times? 
The problem was to give the particles a series of impulses a little 
stronger each time, until, like a child being pushed on a swing, the 
momentum was greatly increased.” 9 

He made a particle-pushing machine of glass and sealing wax. 
The disk-shaped vacuum chamber was only four inches wide. Inside 
were two electrodes, each shaped like half a round cake box and 
called D plates. Outside the vacuum chamber was a powerful elec- 
tromagnet Electrified particles or protons were whirled in a magnetic 
field in the circular chamber until they attained very high speed and 
were then fired out of the chamber in a narrow stream of high-speed 
atomic bullets. Lawrence’s first model was called a cyclotron because it 
whirled the protons in circles. Soon he built a larger one that fired 
protons up to energies of 1.2 million electron volts. 

Whether Tesla was actually smashing the carbon’s atomic 
nucleus, as his first biographer thought, has little bearing on the 
revolutionary nature of his achievement The inventor himself de- 
scribed the molecules of the residual gas as violently impinging on the 
carbon button and causing it to rise to an incandescent state, or a near- 
plastic phase of the solid. 

Lawrence may have had no knowledge of Tesla’s molecular- 
bombardment lamp. Undoubtedly, however, he did know of the 
attempts to build an atom-smasher that were made by Gregory Breit 
and his associates at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., in 


1929, for this group used a 5-million volt Tesla coil to supply the 
necessary power. Without such apparatus, the machines necessary to 
crack the atom could never have functioned. 

The descriptions of Tesla’s carbon-button or molecular-bom- 
bardment lamp are to be found in the permanent records of five 
learned societies.* Unfortunately in the early 1890’s no society was 
sufficiently learned to imagine a use for this technological ancestor of 
the Atomic Age. 

Frederic and Irene Joliot-Curie, Henri Becquerel, Robert A. 
Millikan, Arthur H. Compton, and Lawrence all won Nobel prizes. 
Victor F. Hess won the Nobel in 1936 for discovering cosmic radiation. 
Surely it would be an act of simple justice were the scientific 
community at least to acknowledge Tesla’s pioneer discoveries in each 
of their fields. 

Although many— perhaps most — of his scientific contempo- 
raries failed to understand his lectures fully, Tesla fired the imaginations 
of a perceptive few. And like some today who discover him for the first 
time, a kind of temporary madness seized them. “Not only did he 
teach by accomplishment,” recalled Maj. Edwin H. Armstrong, who 
later won fame for his contributions to radio, “but he taught by the 
inspiration of a marvelous imagination that refused to accept the 
permanence of what appeared to others to be insuperable difficulties: 
an imagination the goals of which, in a number of instances, are still in 
the realms of speculation.” 10 

The English scientist J. A. Fleming wrote Tesla: “I congratulate 
you most heartily on your grand success. . . . After that no one can 
doubt your qualifications as a magician of the first order. Say the Order 
of the Flaming Sword.” 11 

To trace Tesla’s productivity in a sequential fashion in this 
period is almost impossible. He seemed everywhere at once, working 
in a dozen fields that overlapped and were interrelated — but always 
with electricity, that mysterious substance, at the heart of his investiga- 
tions. To him it was a fluid with transcendental powers that conde- 
scended to obey certain physical laws, rather than a stream of discrete 
particles, or wave packets obeying certain particle laws, as in modem 

*AIEE, Columbia College, May 20, 1891; Institution of Electrical Engineers, and Royal 
Society of Great Britain, London, February 1892; Society of Electrical Engineers of 
France and the French Society of Physics, Paris, February 1892. For books 
containing his lectures, see the bibliography 


Nevertheless, in the next few years he was to disclose the 
whole direction of modem electronics, although the election itself 
would not be discovered until 1897 by the British physicist, Joseph JL 

Faraday had shown in 1831 that it was possible to convert 
mechanical energy into electric current Then, in the year of Tesla’s 
birth, England’s Lord Kelvin had made a further discovery that would 
inspire the Serbo-American when he began seeking a new source of 
high-frequency currents, higher than could be mechanically produced 

It had been believed that when a condenser was discharged 
the electricity flowed out of one plate into the other like water. Kelvin 
showed that the process was complex, that electricity rushed from one 
plate into the other and back again until all the stored energy was used 
up, surging at a tremendously high frequency of hundreds of millions 
of times a second 

On the day in Budapest when the concept of the rotating 
magnetic field was revealed to Tesla, he had seen in a flash the 
universe composed of a symphony of alternating currents with the 
harmonies played on a vast range of octaves. The 60-cycles-per- 
second AC was but a single note in a lower octave. In one of the higher 
octaves at a frequency of billions of cycles per second was visible light 
To explore this whole range of electrical vibration between his low- 
frequency alternating current and light waves, he sensed would bring 
him closer to an understanding of the cosmic symphony 

The work of James Clerk Maxwell in 1873 had indicated the 
existence of a vast range of electromagnetic vibrations above and 
below visible light— vibrations of much shorter and much longer 
wavelengths. This theory had been tested by Prof Heinrich Hertz of 
Germany who, in a search for waves longer than light or heat, first 
produced man-made electromagnetic radiation at Bonn in 1888. 
Hertz’s experiments with the spark discharge of an induction coil had 
proved the existence of a magnetic field when he sent a powerful 
electric charge across a spark gap, causing a smaller spark to jump 
across a second gap some distance away At the same time in England, 
Sir Oliver Lodge was seeking to measure tiny electrical waves in wire 

Hertz’s equipment had been feeble and the spark coil both 
impractical and dangerous. Tesla now came up with something both 
different and very much superior a series of high-frequency alterna- 
tors producing frequencies up to 33,000 cycles per second (33,000 
Hz.).* This type of machinery was in fact the forerunner of toe great 
♦Today this would be In the medium-to-low range. 


high-frequency alternators developed by others for continuous-wave 
radio communication in the distant future, but for the inventor’s 
immediate needs, the device was still inadequate. He therefore went 
on to build what is known as the Tesla coil, an air-core transformer with 
primary and secondary coils tuned to resonate — a step-up transformer 
which converts relatively low-voltage high current to high-voltage low 
current at high frequencies. 

This device for producing high voltages, which is today used in 
one form or another in every radio and television set, was in a very 
short time to become part of the research equipment of every 
university science laboratory It allowed the operator to convert the 
weak, highly damped oscillations of the original Hertz circuit and to 
sustain currents of almost any magnitude. In this research Tesla thus 
anticipated by several years die first experiments of Marconi. 

The need for insulating this high-voltage equipment led to his 
immersing it in oil to exclude all air, a method that soon found valuable 
commercial application, since it became the universal way of insulating 
all high-tension apparatus. To reduce resistance in his coils, Tesla used 
stranded conductors with separately insulated strands. Since he 
seldom took time to patent his research tools or methods, this too went 
into the common pool of knowledge. It was later commercialized by 
others, becoming known as “Litz wire,” a term derived from 
Litzendmht ( “stranded wire”) cable. 

He then developed a new kind of reciprocating dynamo 
adapted to his special needs in high-frequency currents— an ingenious 
single-cylinder engine without valves, that could be operated by 
compressed air or steam. The speed it attained was so remarkably 
constant that he proposed adapting it to his 60-cycle polyphase 
system, using synchronous motors, properly geared down, as a means 
of providing the correct time wherever in the world alternating current 
was available. This was the inspiration for the modem electric clock. 12 
Tesla, in his rush of discovery took no time to patent a timekeeper 

And not least, horn the dangerous experiments in which he 
learned to work with hundreds of thousands of volts of high-frequency 
electricity came another discovery of great importance to the world. In 
1890 he announced the therapeutic deep-heating value of high- 
frequency currents on the human body The process became known 
as diathermy From it would flow an enormous field of medical 
technology, with many early imitators both in America and Europe. 13 


Long hours of mental exertion in his New York laboratory over many 
months caused Tesla to experience a strange partial amnesia at the 
start of the 1890’s. 

Immediately after finishing his consulting work for the Westing- 
house corporation, he had become obsessed with what was first 
spoken of as the wireless telephone— or amply wireless — and later by 
its modem name, radio. 

After building the powerful coils in his laboratory he had 
ascertained that broadcasting intelligence was simply one aspect of a 
vast global and interplanetary potential. Radio posed a different set of 
problems from transmitting electricity without wires, yet he believed 
them close enough to be tackled in a angle stunning orchestration. 

“I had produced a striking phenomenon with my grounded 
transmitter,” he later recalled, “and was endeavoring to ascertain its 
hue significance in relation to the currents propagated through the 
earth. It seemed a hopeless undertaking, and for more than a year I 
worked unremittingly but in vain. This profound study so entirely 
absorbed me that I became forgetful of everything else, even erf my 
undermined health. At last, as I was on the point of breaking down, 
nature applied the preservative, inducing lethal sleep.” 1 

From having gone almost without test for months, he said that 
he had then slept “as if drugged.” On regaining his senses, he was 
shocked to discover that he could visualize no scenes from his past 
except those of earliest infancy 

Having developed a marked indifference to medical doctors, 
he put his mind to the problem of curing himself. 

Night after night he concentrated on the memories erf early 
childhood, gradually bringing more and more of his life into focus. In 
this unfolding process the image of his mother was always the principal 
figure. He began to feel a consuming desire to go to her. 

“This feeling grew so strong,” he recalled, “that I resolved to 
drop all work and satisfy my longing. But I found it too hard to break 


RADIO <— ► 63 

away from the laboratory and several months elapsed, during which I 
succeeded in reviving all the impressions of my past life. . . 

It was early spring of 1892. He had not yet accepted a flock of 
invitations to lecture in England and France and indeed was still in a 
state of emotional conflict about doing so. 

Then, he recalls, a vision materialized “out of the mist of 
oblivion,” and he saw himself at the Hotel de la Paix in Paris, just 
coming to horn one of his peculiar sleeping spells. In this “recollec- 
tion,” he saw himself being handed a dispatch bearing the sad news 
that his mother was dying. 

A curious fact about this period of partial amnesia, Tesla later 
wrote, was that he was alive to everything touching on his research, 
which went forward apace. “I could recall the smallest details and the 
least significant observations in my experiments, and even recite pages 
of texts and complex mathematical formulae.” 

It appears there had been reason for his concerns about his 
mother’s health: letters had been arriving from the family home at 
Gospic indicating that her health was indeed failing. He had also been 
receiving horn all parts of the world invitations, honors, “and other 
flattering inducements?’ to visit and lecture. At last he accepted those 
from London and Paris, planning thereafter to go directly home. 

His lecture to the Institution of Electrical Engineers in London 
was hailed as a major scientific event, and when it was over, the British 
did not want to let him go. 

“Sir James Dewar insisted on my appearing before the Royal 
Society,” he recalled. “I was a man of firm resolve but succumbed 
easily to tire forceful arguments of tire great Scotchman. He pushed 
me into a chair and poured out half a glass of wonderful brown fluid 
which sparkled in all sorts of iridescent colors and tasted like nectar” 

To his surprise Dewar said, “Now you are sitting in Faraday’s 
chair and you are enjoying whiskey he used to drink.” 2 On bang 
assured that no one else in the world more deserved these honors, he 
was won over The French could wait one more day 

His lecture before the Royal Society of Great Britain, attended 
by tire elite of the scientific world, brought yet more accolades for the 
young inventor. Lord Rayleigh, the distinguished physicist who was 
then chairman of the Royal Society, urged the inventor, because of his 
great talent for mining fundamental discoveries, to consider revising his 
modus operandi. 

He recommended that Tesla in the future specialize in some 

RADIO <— ► 64 

single area of research. This was a highly novel idea for a scientist who 
demanded all the answers at once. 

Sir William Crookes, whose work Tesla greatly admired, sent a 
letter to his hotel after the lecture, describing how he had been inspired 
to subject his own body to strange electrical effects. 

“My dear Tesla,” he wrote. “You are a true prophet I have 
finished my new coil, and it does not do so well as the little one you 
made for me. I fear it is too large. . . . The phosphorescence through 
my body when I hold one terminal is decidedly inferior to that given 
with the littie one....” 3 

The observant Crookes had noted the inventor’s exhaustion 
and went on to warn him that he appeared to be on the verge of a 
physical and nervous breakdown. “I hope you will get away to the 
mountains of your native land as soon as you can,” he wrote. “You are 
suffering from overwork, and if you do not take care of yourself you 
will break down. Don’t answer tills letter or see anyone but take the 
first train.” 

Sir Wiliam was right; but his advice was just then impossible 
for Tesla to accept 

The inventor hurried to Paris where he lectured on “Experi- 
ments with Alternating Currents of High Potential and High Fre- 
quency” and again demonstrated his sensitive electronic tubes. This 
time his audiences were the Societe Internationale des Electriciens and 
tiie Societe Frangaise de Physique. 

That same month of February 1892, Sir William Crookes 
affirmed Tesla’s intuition. He published a prediction that electromag- 
netic waves in space could be used for wireless. 

No sooner had Tesla finished his last lecture than, pleading 
exhaustion, he fled to his room at the Hotel de la Paix. It seemed 
almost an anticlimax when a messenger handed him a telegram saying 
that his mother was dying. 

Rushing to the station, he squeezed aboard a train just leaving 
for Croatia. Later transferring to a carriage, he reached home in time 
to spend a few hours with his mother. Then, near collapse, he was 
taken to a building dose to his home to rest 

“As 1 lay helpless there,” he wrote in his autobiographical 
memoir, “I thought that if my mother died while I was away from her 
bedside she would surely give me a sign. ... I [had been] in London in 
company with my late friend, Sir Wiliam Crookes, when spiritualism 

RADIO <— » 65 

was discussed, and I was under the full sway of these thoughts. ... I 
reflected that the conditions for a look into the beyond were most 
favorable, for my mother was a women of genius and particularly 
excelling in the powers of intuition.” 4 

During that entire night his mind was strained with expectancy, 
but nothing happened until early in the morning. In a light dream or 
“swoon,” he says, he saw “a cloud carrying angelic figures of 
marvelous beauty, one of whom gazed upon me lovingly and gradu- 
ally assumed the features of my mother. The appearance slowly floated 
across the room and vanished, and I was awakened by an indescrib- 
ably sweet song of many voices. In that instant a certitude, which no 
words can express, came upon me that my mother had just died. And 
that was true. . . .” 

It was important to him later to account for the external causes 
of these apparently transcendental impressions, since he still held to his 
thesis that human beings were mere “meat machines.” The following 
“explanation” appears in his memoir: 

“When I recovered I sought for a long time the external cause 
of this strange manifestation and, to my great relief, I succeeded after 
many months of fruitless effort. I had seen the painting of a celebrated 
artist, representing allegorically one of the seasons in the form of a 
cloud with a group of angels which seemed to actually float in the air, 
and this had struck me forcefully It was exactly the same that appeared 
in my dream, with the exception of my mother’s likeness. The music 
came from the choir in the church nearby at the early mass of Easter 
morning, explaining everything satisfactorily in conformity with scien- 
tific facts. 

“This occurred long ago, and I have never had the faintest 
reason since to change my views on psychical and spiritual phe- 
nomena, for which there is absolutely no foundation. The belief in 
these is the natural outgrowth of intellectual development. Religious 
dogmas are no longer accepted in their orthodox meaning, but every 
individual clings to faith in a supreme power of some kind. We all must 
have an ideal to govern our conduct and insure contentment, but it is 
immaterial whether it be one of creed, art, science or anything else, so 
long as it fulfills the function of a dematerializing force. It is essential to 
the peaceful existence of humanity as a whole that one common 
conception should prevail. 

“While I have failed to obtain any evidence in support of the 
contentions of psychologists and spiritualists, I have proved to my 

RADIO <— > 66 

complete satisfaction the automatism of life, not only through continu- 
ous observations of individual actions, but even more conclusively 
through certain generalizations.” 5 

He said that whenever friends or relatives of his had been hurt 
by others in a particular way he himself felt what he could only 
characterize as a “cosmic” pain. This resulted from the fact that human 
bodies are of similar construction and exposed to the same external 
influences, which results in likeness of response. “A very sensitive and 
observant being, with his highly developed mechanism all intact, and 
acting with precision in obedience to the changing conditions of the 
environment,” he wrote, “is endowed with a transcending mechanical 
sense, enabling him to evade perils too subtle to be directly perceived. 
When he comes in contact with others whose controlling organs are 
radically faulty, that sense asserts itself and he feels the ‘cosmic’ 
pain....” 6 

It is obvious from the inventor’s writings that he himself was 
never completely satisfied with his theories on this subject 

This was not to be the only instance of precognition and 
extrasensory perception in Tesla’s life. But he always tried to explain 
them away mechanistically tracing intuition to external events. Thus 
when his sister Angelina fell fatally ill, he sent a telegram from New 
York saying, “I had a vision that Angelina was arising and disappear- 
ing. I sensed all is not well.” Tesla’s nephew, Sava Kosanovic, would 
later recall how the inventor told him of such premonitions but 
discounted them. He was a sensitive receiver, he said, registering any 
disturbance — but there was no mystery to it 

“He declared,” said Kosanovic, “that each man is like an 
automaton which reacts to external impressions.” But what the exter- 
nal impressions were that gave him actual precognition,' as hereafter 
described, he never discussed. 

He told Kosanovic of an incident that occurred in Manhattan in 
the 1890’s after he had given a big party Some of the guests were 
preparing to take a train for Philadelphia. Tesla, seized with “a 
powerful urge,” was impelled to detain them, causing them to miss the 
train. It crashed. Many passengers were injured. 7 

He associated a personal anomaly with the anxious rush to his 
mother’s deathbed. A patch of white hair developed on the right side of 
his head, which was otherwise jet black and thick. After a few months, 
however, it returned to its natural state. 

Following his mother’s death he was ill for a number of weeks. 
When finally able to get about, he visited relatives in Belgrade, where 

RADIO <— » 67 

he received the welcome due a world-famous native son, and then 
went on to Zagreb and Budapest 

As a child Tesla had been fascinated by the relationship 
between lightning and rain. On this tip, while roaming in his native 
mountains, he had an experience that profoundly affected him as a 

“I sought shelter from an approaching storm,” he later re- 
called “The sky became overhung with dark clouds but somehow the 
rain was delayed until, all of a sudden, there was a lightning flash and a 
few moments after, a deluge. This observation set me thinking. It was 
manifest that the two phenomena were closely related, as cause and 
effect, and a little reflection led me to the conclusion that the electrical 
energy enclosed in the precipitation of the water was inconsiderable, 
the function of lightning being much like that of a sensitive trigger. 

“Here was a stupendous possibility of achievement If we 
could produce electric storms of the required ability, this whole planet 
and the conditions of existence on it could be transformed. The sun 
raises the water of the oceans and winds drive it to distant regions 
where it remains in a state of the most delicate balance. If it were in our 
power to upset it when and wherever desired, this mighty life- 
sustaining medium could be at will controlled. We could irrigate arid 
deserts, create lakes and rivers and provide motive power in unlimited 

Controlling lightning, he concluded, would be the most conve- 
nient way of harnessing the power of the sun. 

“The consummation depended on our ability to develop 
electric forces of an order of those in nature,” he decided “It seemed a 
hopeless undertaking, but I made up my mind to try [I]mmediately 
upon my return to the United States, in the summer of 1892, work was 
begun which was to me all the more attractive, because a means of the 
same kind was necessary for the successful transmission of energy 
without wires.” 8 

On August 31, 1892, The Electrical Engineer reported the 
return to New York of Mr. Nikola Tesla, the distinguished electrician, on 
the steamship Augusta Victoria from Hamburg. After commenting on 
the death of Tesla’s mother and his subsequent illness, the journal 
added: “His magnificent reception at the hands of European electri- 
cians has become, like his investigations and researches, part of 
electrical history; and the honors conferred on him were such as to 
make Americans very proud of one who has chosen this country as a 

RADIO <— ► 68 

He moved scientific history forward again in the spring of 1893 
when, addressing the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the 
National Electric Light Association at St Louis, he described in detail 
the principles of radio broadcasting. 

At St Louis he made the first public demonstration ever of 
radio communication, although Marconi is generally credited with 
having achieved this feat in 1895. 

Tesla’s twenty-eight-year-old assistant at the St. Louis lecture 
was H. P. Broughton whose son, William G. Broughton, is licensee of 
the Schenectady Museum memorial amateur radio station W21R At 
the station’s dedication speech in 1976 William Broughton touched 
upon highlights of Tesla’s historic demonstration at St Louis — after a 
week’s preparation — as personally told to him by his father. 

“Eighty-three years ago, in St Louis, the National Electric 
Light Association sponsored a public lecture on high-voltage high- 
frequency phenomena,” said the younger Broughton. “On the au- 
ditorium stage a demonstration was set up by using two groups of 

“In the transmitter group on one side of the stage was a 5-kva 
high-voltage pole-type oil-filled distribution transformer connected to 
a condenser bank of Leyden jars, a spark gap, a coil, and a wire 
running up to the ceiling. 

“In the receiver group at the other side of the stage was an 
identical wire hanging from the ceiling, a duplicate condenser bank of 
Leyden jars and coil — but instead erf the spark gap, there was a 
Geissler tube that would light up like a modem fluorescent lamp bulb 
when voltage was applied. There were no interconnecting wires 
between transmitter and receiver. 

“The transformer in the transmitter group,” Broughton con- 
tinued, “was energized from a special electric power fine through an 
exposed two-blade knife switch. When this switch was closed, the 
transformer grunted and groaned, the Leyden jars showed corona 
sizzling around their foil edges, the spark gap crackled with a noisy 
spark discharge, and an invisible electromagnetic field radiated energy 
into space from the transmitter antenna wire. 

“Simultaneously, in the receiver group, the Geissler tube 
lighted up from radio-frequency excitation picked up by the receiver 
antenna wire. 

“Thus wireless was bom. A wireless message had been 
transmitted by the 5-kilowatt spark transmitter, and instantly received 
by the Geissler-tube receiver thirty feet away. . . . 

RADIO <— » 69 

“The world-famous genius who invented, conducted, and 
explained this lecture demonstration,” he concluded, “was Nikola 

Although the St Louis demonstration was no “message sent 
’round the world” as Tesla would doubtless of course have preferred it 
to be, he had nevertheless demonstrated all the fundamental princi- 
ples of modem radio: 1. an antenna or aerial wire; 2. a ground 
connection; 3. an aerial-ground circuit containing inductance and 
capacity; 4. adjustable inductance and capacity (for tuning); 5. 
sending and receiving sets tuned to resonance with each other; and 6. 
electronic tube detectors. 9 

In his earliest transmissions he used vibrating contacts to make 
continuous waves in a receiving system audible A few years later the 
crystal detector was introduced to receive the signals of spark-gap 
transmitters. This became the accepted practice of commercial radio 
until the invention by Maj. Edwin H. Armstrong of the regenerative or 
feedback circuit, which brought radio into the era of amplified sound. 
Later, Armstrong introduced the superheterodyne beat-note circuit, 
which underlies all modem radio and radar reception. Armstrong, a 
graduate student of Prof Michael Pupin’s at Columbia University, had 
been inspired by Tesla’s lectures. Later, however; perhaps influenced 
by Pupin, he would champion Marconi in the prolonged and bitter war 
between the latter and Tesla over radio patents. 

The scientist who, next to Tesla, most deserved credit for 
pioneering radio was Sir Oliver Lodge, for in 1894 he demonstrated 
the possibility of transmitting telegraph signals wirelessly by Hertzian 
waves a distance of 150 yards. 

Two years later young Marchese Guglielmo Marconi arrived in 
London with a wireless set identical to Lodge’s. Naturally he aroused 
little comment among the leading contenders in the race. He did, 
however, have a ground connection and antenna or aerial wire with 
which he had made crude experiments in Bologna. As it happened, 
this equipment was exactly what Tesla had described in his widely 
published lectures of 1893, which had been translated into many 
languages. 10 Later, as we shall see, Marconi was to deny that he had 
ever read of Tesla’s system, and the U.S. Patent Examiner was to brand 
his denial patently absurd. 

Significantly; until the early 1960’s only eleven patent cases 
would reach the United States Supreme Court and erf those few, two 
involved Tesla patents. The fundamental nature of his work was 
characteristic. The high court heard cases involving his polyphase 

RADIO <— > 70 

alternating-current patents and his radio patents, and both actions 
were decided in his favor Ironically, neither of these was brought by 
the inventor himself. 

January sleet scraped at the windows of Tesla’s laboratory 
Kolman Czito, his assistant, shivered as he helped to adjust a machine, 
but the inventor worked away in total concentration. For all that Tesla 
was aware of the temperature, it might as well have been blossom time. 

The telephone rang, and he sighed as he went to answer it 
The operator was putting through a long-distance call from Pittsburgh. 

George Westinghouse’s voice boomed across the miles, almost 
stuttering in his excitement. His firm had gotten the contract for 
installing all the power and lighting equipment for the Chicago World’s 
Fair of 1893, otherwise known as the Columbian Exposition — the first 
electrical fair in history. It would use Tesla’s alternating-current system, 
his maligned and ridiculed AC, all the way. 

This was good news and bad: good because it offered a great 
international event as a showcase; bad because it meant leaving work 
that meant more to him than anything else in life. His radio research 
was now at its most exciting, critical point 

The industrialist’s words were tumbling over each other. It was 
going to be the grandest spectacle of modem times, he said; a chance 
not only to show what AC could do but to exhibit all the new electrical 
products being invented. Who would not give an arm and a leg for 
such an opportunity? 

General Electric would be showing Edison’s inventions. Every- 
body who was anybody in international science would be there. The 
architecture was to be magnificent 

“When does the Fair open?” Tesla asked, fearing the worst 

“May first Hardly time for everything we must do.” 

“All right Mr. Westinghouse,” said the inventor. 

Turning away from his beloved coils, he went to work on the 
big show. Ideas were already racing through his mind for ways to 
amaze the scientific community and bewitch the public. He could not 
possibly have said no. 

The United States both wanted and needed a spectacle. 
Shortly after President Grover Cleveland was elected to a second term 
of office, the nation was engulfed by bank failures, joblessness, and 
bankruptcies. The Panic of 1893 haunted the humble and the mighty 

RADIO <— ► 71 

alike. Something to take people’s minds off the imminent prospect of 
standing in breadlines seemed politically desirable. 

The Columbian Exposition was devised as a celebration (one 
year late) of the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of 
America. President Cleveland invited the royalty of Spain and Portugal 
and other foreign dignitaries. He even agreed to turn the gold master 
key that would release the electricity and flood the City of Tomorrow 
with light, starting up fountains and machinery, raising flags and 
banners, and signaling the grand opening of the extravaganza. To 
agree to turn the master key took courage. Electricity had been 
installed in the White House in 1891, but thus far no president had 
ever been allowed to touch the switches. The task had been prudently 
left to hirelings, for, after all, the public had been warned by no less an 
authority than Edison of the dangers involved. 

Chicago was a gray city when the great day finally came, the 
breadlines now being actual and long. But the site of the Fair was 
breathtaking to the multitude that arrived, and reporters began to write 
of it as the White City. The New York Times (May 1, 1893) reported, 
“Grover Cleveland, calm and dignified, in a few eloquent words 
delivered in a clear, ringing voice, which was heard by the great 
multitude gathered before him, declared the World’s Columbian 
Exposition open . . . and touched the ivory-and-gold key. . . .’’ 

A Tower of Light flared into brilliance with a thousand electric 
bulbs radiating the promise of a brighter future. Venetian canals had 
been built to mirror the modem illumination of “Old World” architec- 
ture. Everywhere the pulse of the future throbbed: alternating current 

As the lights went on, the massed human beings below uttered 
a great sigh. Then, in the seats reserved for them, the Cabinet officers, 
the Duke and Duchess of Veragua, and other foreign dignitaries began 
to cheer. The crowd lustily joined in while tightly corseted women 
fainted and fell like soldiers in battle. 

Westinghouse, who had underbid General Electric on the 
illumination contract had enjoyed a decisive triumph. In the Electricity 
Building could be seen all the latest products and inventions of 
American ingenuity At night especially the Fair seemed an enchanted 
place. Colored searchlights played on the fountains, making them so 
beautiful that people actually wept tears of joy. Adventurous citizens 
careered around the fairgrounds on an elevated train driven by 
electricity The foolhardy crowded to get seats on Mr. G. W. Ferries 

RADIO » 72 

enormous wheel, which was 250 feet in diameter and like nothing ever 
seen before. They packed in sixty to a car to soar out precariously 
above both the White City and the gray city that lay beyond. 

Between May and October; 25 million Americans visited 
Chicago to see the latest wonders of science, industry; art, and 
architecture. This was then a third of the total population. 

Visitors crowded into the display rooms presided over by the 
famous Nikola Tesla Clad in white tie and tails, he stood among a 
magician’s feast of high-frequency equipment, demonstrating one 
electrical miracle after another. A darkened alcove held tables that 
glowed with his phosphorescent tubes and lamps. One length of 
tubing radiated the words “Welcome, Electricians,” which Tesla had 
had laboriously blown letter by letter from the molten glass. His other 
lights honored such great scientists as Helmholtz, Faraday, Maxwell, 
Henry, and Franklin. And he had not forgotten— right up there with 
fte famous scientists— the name of the most eminent living poet of 
Yugoslavia: Zmaj Jovan, whose pseudonym was ZMAJi 

Day after day he captivated the curious with demonstrations 
illustrating how alternating current worked. 11 On a velvet-covered 
table small metallic objects— copper balls, metal eggs— were made to 
spin at great speeds, reversing themselves smoothly at fixed intervals. 

He demonstrated the first synchronized electric clock attached 
to an oscillator and showed his first disruptive discharge coil The 
audiences understood little of the science involved, yet were en- 
thralled. And when he seemed to turn himself into a human firestorm 
by using the apparatus with which he had so often thrilled his 
laboratory visitors, they cried out in fear and wonder 

A bevy of Tesla’s young women friends arrived under firm 
escort from New York City They flirted with him, rode on the Ferris 
wheel, and visited the Woman’s Building to hear Mrs. Potter Palmer 
(Chicago’s retort to Mrs. Astor) declare that the model kitchen, which 
boasted an electric stove, electric fans, and even an automatic 
dishwasher, heralded the liberation of the female. 

It is possible, however; that they felt more liberated by the sight 
of Princess Eulalia who, representing her nephew King Alfonso erf 
Spain, brazenly smoked cigarettes in public. 

They saw the first zipper and Edison’s Kinetoscope (early 
motion-picture photography) which brought “scenes to the eyes as 
well as sounds to the ear”; and they listened to thin bursts of music 
piped by telephone from a concert in Manhattan. They stood with 
crowds ogling the bellydancing of an energetic young woman billed as 

RADIO <— > 73 

Utile Egypt and— because the Fair offered something for every taste — 
admired a plump Venus de Milo molded in chocolate. 

A journalist, one of a throng who visited the Tesla exhibition, 
sent this report to his newspaper 

“Mr Tesla has been seen receiving through his hands currents 
at a potential of more than 200,000 volts, vibrating a million times per 
second, and manifesting themselves in dazzling streams of 
light.... After such a striking test, which, by the way, no one has 
displayed a hurried inclination to repeat, Mr. Tesla’s body and clothing 
have continued for some time to emit fine glimmers or halos of 
splintered light In fact an actual flame is produced by the agitation of 
electrostatically charged molecules, and the curious spectacle can be 
seen of puissant white, ethereal flames, that do not consume anything, 
bursting from the ends of an induction coil as though it were the bush 
on holy ground.” 

The inventor, it was reported, expected one day to envelop 
himself in a complete sheet of lambent fire that would leave him quite 
uninjured. Such currents, he claimed, would keep a naked man warm 
at the North Pole, and their use in therapeutics was but one of their 
practical possibilities. 

“My first announcement [of medical diathermy] spread like fire 
and experiments were undertaken by a host of experts here and in 
other countries,” he later wrote. “When a famous French physician, 
Dr. d’Arsonval, declared that he had made the same discovery; a 
heated controversy relative to priority was started. The French, eager 
to honor their countryman, made him a member of the Academy; 
ignoring entirely my earlier publication. Resolved to take steps for 
vindicating my claim, I went to Paris, when I met Dr. d’Arsonval. His 
personal charm disarmed me completely and I abandoned my 
intention, content to rest on the record. It shows that my disclosure 
antedated his and also that he used my apparatus in his 
demonstrations. . . ? a 

Although Tesla is credited with having first recorded the fact (in 
1891) that heat production resulting from the bombardment of tissue 
with high-frequency alternating currents could have medical uses for 
the treatment of arthritis and many other afflictions, the name 
“D’Arsonval current” persisted in medical terminology. In any event, 
the use of radiation spread rapidly; and a field of medical technology — 
at first called diathermy and now called hyperthermia — developed that 
today includes the application of X ray; microwave, and radio wave to 
destroy cancer cells. They are also used for healing bones and tissue. 

RADIO ► 74 

Throughout his life Tesla was also a firm believer in the 
therapeutic value of what he called “cold fire,” both for refreshing the 
mind and deansing the skin. In feet, the brush discharge or corona 
from a low-power therapeutic device does seem to enhance muscular 
action, may improve drculation, and also generates ozone which can 
be mildly stimulating when breathed in low concentration. Physidst 
Maurice Stahl says, “There is also a psychosomatic effect I would 
consider the overall effect more than mechanical.” 

The inventor also had hopes that electrical anaesthesia might 
become posable. And he proposed burying high-voltage wires in 
dassrooms to stimulate dull students. To key up actors before they 
went on stage, he arranged to install a high-tension dressing room in a 
New York theater. 

At the Columbian Exposition Tesla also described heating bars 
of iron and melting lead and tin in the electromagnetic field of spedally 
designed high-frequency coils. This was to have important commercial 
consequences many years later. 

Although he had left his laboratory for Chicago reluctantly, the 
Fair proved an exhilarating experience for him. It was equally so for 
George Westinghouse. The latter displayed in the Machinery Hall 
various commercial motors of the AC system and twelve generators of 
the two-phase type that had been built espedally for distributing light 
and power. To show the complete adaptability of his system, Westing- 
house demonstrated how a rotary converter could change polyphase 
AC into DC to run a railway motor 

Perhaps Tesla’s biggest day came on August 25 when he 
delivered a lecture to the Electrical Congress and demonstrated his 
mechanical and electrical oscillators. Thomas Commerford Martin, the 
well-known editor and electrical engineer, wrote that scientists would 
now be able to carry on investigations in alternating current with great 
precision. But also, he added, one of the uses of such equipment 
would be in the field of “harmonic and synchronous telegraphy” and 
that “vast possibilities are again opened up.” 13 

Hermann Helmholtz, the celebrated German physicist, at- 
tended the Electrical Congress as an official delegate of the German 
Empire and was elected its president Tesla’s fellow countryman 
Michael Pupin, too, was a participant “The subjects discussed at that 
congress,” Pupin later wrote, “and the men who discussed them, 
showed that fee electrical science was not in its infancy and that 
electrical things were not done by fee rule of thumb.” Thus he too 

RADIO <— > 75 

repudiated Edison’s contention that alternating current was too little 
understood for safe use. 

Tesla returned to New York elated by his triumphs. In the flush 
of fame he was more determined than ever to avoid the many public 
claims on his time. He would have preferred to avoid all commercial 
claims as well, but the need to finance radio and other research soon 
made this impossible. 

High Society 

Wall Street was dominated by personal adventurers, including such 
legendary figures as Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, the Vanderbilts, 
Edward H. Harriman, Jay Gould, Thomas Fortune Ryan, and other 
more ephemeral but equally colorful specimens. Some might bloom 
for a day, only to be trampled and forgotten. Most thrived on trading of 
such dubious legality that anyone who tried to emulate them today 
would probably be obliged to live in a foreign capital beyond threat of 
extradition. Dealing in coal, railroads, steel, tobacco, and the new field 
of electrical utilities, they plunged, cornered, and sold short 

According to the irreverent Twain, the gospel as preached by 
the robber barons during this galloping phase of the industrial 
revolution was, “Get money Get it quickly. Get it in abundance. Get it 
dishonestly, if you can, honestly, if you must” 

Each day when the closing gong sounded at the Stock 
Exchange on Wall Street, many members moved on to the Waldorf- 
Astoria Hotel, which was then located where the Empire State Building 
now stands. For a broker to be admitted as a member of the “Waldorf 
Crowd” was a patent of success. The splendid lounges and dining 
rooms served as showcases in which to observe the preenings of the 
winners as well as the dismay of the losers. Fear was often a palpable 

Tesla instinctively gravitated to the glass-enclosed Palm Room 
to see and be seen by the money men so important to his career. He 
had begun dining there regularly some years before he was able to 
take up residence at the fashionable hotel. Compared to the enormous 
wealth amassed by the plungers and builders of the period, he was not 
affluent, but he was handsome, polished, charming, and lived as if his 
prospects for wealth were excellent, as indeed they were. And after all, 
as Ward McAllister observed of the Gilded Age, “A man with a million 
dollars can be as happy nowadays as though he were rich.” 

Tesla himself was now a member of McAllister’s exclusive 
roster of wealth and social position, the New York “400.” He was 
meeting those fabled “great silent men with cold eyes and hard smiles?’ 
on their own playing field. His knowledge was being courted, and he 


enjoyed the game. Should he allow himself to become, like Edison, 
“Morganized?” Should he be “Astored,” “Insulled,” “Melloned.” 
“Ryaned,” or “Fricked”? He had no illusions as to the risk involved. 
No matter who capitalized his inventions, there would certainly be 
meddling interference and probably ultimate control. That was how 
the system worked, and it was the price an inventor must pay. 

A few knowledgeable men had already begun to call him the 
greatest inventor in history, greater even than Edison. If further proof of 
his success in the New World were needed, a backlash was developing 
against him — not just in the Edison camp but, more quietly, among 
other scientists who received less attention from the press and who 
were never invited to the exciting celebrity affairs in his laboratory. 

All his life Tesla was to cultivate an adoring host of journalists, 
editors, publishers, and literati. Although his lectures made him world- 
famous and were preserved in the records of learned societies, he 
never once submitted an article to an academic journal. Indeed, when 
he first arrived in America there was none; institutional ties with the big 
three of industry, government, and universities had not yet become the 
accepted avenue to recognition for a scientist But now that was 

He was a loner by preference when the time for lone operators 
was swiftly passing. Edison himself, as one of the last of the “indepen- 
dents,” was a transitional figure who built the first of the large industrial 
research laboratories, setting the style for modem science. 

Tesla’s lifelong distaste for corporate involvement was twofold: 
most other engineers drove him mad with impatience, and he resented 
any form of control. If he had to deal with a corporate person, he 
preferred it to be the president or chairman of the board. 

The movers and shakers he observed at the Waldorf after the 
Stock Exchange had closed for the day were limited conversationalists. 
Their interests were largely in rates and tariffs, their fears riveted on 
financial panics and labor riots. Partisan politics scarcely interested 
them, only the buying of blocs of votes as necessary to protect the rates 
and tariffs. Bernard Baruch once told of a crude German trader 
named Jacob Field, known as Jake, who was being wined and (fined 
by some grateful friends. When two lovely women on either side of 
him were stumped to know what to talk to him about, one of them 
finally asked whether he liked Balzac. Jake tugged on his mustaches. 
“I never deal in dem outside stocks,” he said. 1 

Journalists and bluestockings were much more to Tesla’s 
natural taste. As for the gentlemen of the press, they were so enthralled 
by his charismatic presence that they could scarcely remember after 


meeting him whether he had bushy black hair or wavy brown, or what 
was the color of his eyes or the length of his thumbs— the latter being, 
curiously, a matter of intense interest 

Male writers of the period often affected a florid prose style oi 
which Julian Hawthorne, the novelist and only son of Nathaniel 
Hawthorne, was a leading exponent Smitten by his first meeting with 
Tesla, he described something like a vision seen in an opium den: 

“I saw a tall, slender young man with long arms and fingers, 
whose rather languid movements veiled extraordinary muscular 
power. His face was oval, broad at the temples, and strong at the lips 
and chin; with long eyes whose lids were seldom fully lifted, as if he 
were in a waking dream, seeing visions which were not revealed to the 
generality. He had a slow smile, as if awakening to actualities, and 
finding a humorous quality in them. Withal he manifested a courtesy 
and amiability which were almost feminine, and beneath all were the 
simplicity and integrity of a child. ... He has abundant wavy brown 

hair, blue eyes and a fair skin To be with Tesla is to enter a domain 

of freedom even freer than solitude, because the horizon enlarges 
so....” 2 

On the other hand, one of the inventor’s secretaries, as if 
reciting, “Peter Piper,” wrote that he had bushy black hair brushed 
back briskly 

Yet everyone seemed agreed as to the power of Tesla’s 
personality. Franklin Chester in the Citizen (August 22, 1897) wrote 
that no one could look upon him without feeling his force. Chester 
described him as well over six feet tall (actually he was a towering six 
feet six inches), with large hands and abnormally long thumbs, “a sign 
of great intelligence.” As to the inventor’s controversial hair, Chester 
said it was straight, a deep and shining black, brushed sharply from 
over his ears to make a ridge with serrated edges. His cheekbones 
were high and Slavic, his eyes blue and deeply set, burning like balls of 

“Those weird flashes of light he makes with his instruments,” 
Chester continued, “seemed almost to shoot from them. His head is 
wedge shaped. His chin is almost a point . . . When he talks you listen. 
You do not know what he is saying, but it enthralls you. ... He speaks 
the perfect English of a highly educated foreigner, without accent and 
with precision. ... He speaks eight languages equally well. . . .” 

Hearst’s flamboyant editor Arthur Brisbane found the inven- 
tor’s eyes “rather light” as a result of straining his mind so much. (Tesla 
claimed this was true.) Brisbane shared the prevailing view that long 


thumbs meant a powerful intellect, referring his readers to the very 
small thumbs of apes. Tesla’s mouth, however, he thought too small 
and his chin, although not weak, not strong enough. He guessed his 
height at more than six feet and his weight at less than 140 pounds, 
and reported that he tended to stoop. Tesla’s voice he described as 
being somewhat shrill, probably from psychic tension. 

“He has that supply of self-love and self-confidence that 
usually goes with success.” 3 

John J O’Neill, the Pulitzer Prize-winning science editor of the 
New York Herald Tribune, who was to become Tesla’s first biographer 
and devoted friend of many years, described his eyes as gray-blue, 
which he felt to be a matter of genetic inheritance rather than mental 
strain. To him Tesla was a god whose ethereal brilliance “created the 
modem era.” 4 

Bom the romantic point of view, O’Neill noted, he was too tall 
and slender to pose as the physical Adonis, but his other qualifications 
more than compensated. 

“He was handsome of face, had a magnetic personality, but 
was quiet, almost shy; he was soft spoken, well educated and wore 
clothes well” 

As to Tesla’s own view of such matters, he fancied himself as 
being the very best-dressed man on Fifth Avenue. Moreover, as he 
once told his secretary, he intended to remain so. His usual streetwear 
included a black Prince Albert coat and a derby hat, and these he wore 
in the laboratory too unless some important experiment demanded 
formal evening wear. His handkerchiefs were of white silk rather than 
linen, his neckties sober, and his collars stiff He threw out all 
accessories, including gloves, after a very few wearings. Jewelry he 
never wore and felt strongly about as the result of his phobias. 

Robert Underwood Johnson, shortly after meeting Tesla, 
arranged that he be given an honorary degree from his own alma 
mater, Yale University And later when Columbia also conferred an 
honorary degree upon him, Johnson was called upon to describe the 
special virtues of the inventor’s character. Tesla, he said, had a 
personality of “distinguished sweetness, sincerity modesty refine- 
ment, generosity and force...” 

Women were smitten as often as his male admirers. 

Miss Dorothy F. Skerritt, his secretary of many years, attested 
that even in old age his presence and manner were impressive. “From 
under protruding eyebrows,” she wrote, “his deep-set, steel gray soft, 
yet piercing eyes, seemed to read your innermost thoughts ... his face 


glowed with almost ethereal radiance His genial smile and nobility 

of bearing always denoted the gentlemanly characteristics that were so 
ingrained in his soul .” 5 

His friend Hawthorne was struck not only by Tesla’s physical 
attractiveness but by his richness of culture. Seldom did one meet a 
scientist or engineer, he noted, who was also a poet, a philosopher, an 
appreciator of fine music, a linguist, and a connoisseur of food and 
drink. “[W]hen it was question of the vintage of a wine, or the 
condition and cooking of an ortolan, he knew that, too.” And when he 
spoke, Hawthorne claimed, one could read the future in his face, 
seeing “mankind . . . arise a Titan, and grasp the secrets of the skies. I 
saw a coming time when the race would no longer be forced to labor 
for the means of livelihood, when the terms rich and poor would no 
longer mean difference of material conditions, but of spiritual capacity 
and ambition; a time . . . even, when knowledge should be derived 
from sources now hardly imagined. . . ” 6 

Tesla displayed occasional streaks of cruelty that seemed 
motivated by likes and dislikes of an almost compulsive sort Fat 
people disgusted him, and he made little effort to conceal his feelings. 
One of his secretaries was in his opinion too fat Once she awkwardly 
knocked something off a table and he fired her She pleaded with him 
on plump knees to change his mind but he refused to do so. He had a 
favorite joke about two of his ancient aunts that centered on the fact 
that both were sublimely ugly. 

He could be equally imperious about his subordinated clothes. 
A secretary might spend half a month’s earnings on a new dress, and 
he would criticize it, ordering her to go home and change it before 
delivering a message to one of his important banker friends. 

His employees seemed never to question his assumed role as 
an arbiter of taste and in fact were singularly loyal to him. Other 
qualities compensated. His assistants Kolman Czito and George 
Scherff, his secretaries Muriel Arbus and Miss Skerritt, stayed with him 
through thick times and thin. When he grew old and rambling, 
journalists would protect him from his own utterances. The science 
writers Kenneth M. Swezey and O’Neill, mere teenagers when they 
met him, came to worship him almost as a god. Hugo Gemsback, the 
famous science editor and a father of science fiction, would publish 
everything he could get of Tesla’s, considering him at least as important 
as Edison. 

This strangely captivating figure was to be courted not only by 
writers, industrialists, and financiers, but by musicians, actors, kings, 
poets, university trustees, mystics, and crackpots. Honors would be 


showered upon him; foreign governments would seek his services. 
People were to call him a wizard, a visionary, a prophet, a prodigal 
genius, and the greatest scientist of all time. But that was not all. 

Some called him a faker and a charlatan, just as at times they 
defamed Edison when he too “went public” with his inventions and 
bragged precipitously to the press. Fellow scientists in the universities 
would never forgive Tesla this sin. Edison’s feme outlived such 
charges, for he took the wise precaution of acquiring a fortune and 
power as well as a vast popular following. But Tesla’s dollars would slip 
away like sand, and he would have to stand alone, aloof and 
indifferent to public opinion. 

One harsh critic, Waldemar Kaempffert, science editor of the 
New York Times, was to brand him “an intellectual boa constrictor” in 
whose coils such innocents as J. P. Morgan and Colonel Astor had 
been as helpless prey. Kaempffert would describe him as a “medieval 
practitioner of black arts ... as vague as an oriental mystic,” and 
accuse him (mixing the historical metaphor) of being a hopelessly 
retrograde Victorian, unable to accept the new atomic science of the 
twentieth century His fellow journalists, sniffed Kaempffert, “though 
they could not understand what [Tesla] was talking about, were 
enthralled with his proposals to communicate with Mars and to 
transmit power without wires over vast distances.” 7 And he strongly 
intimated that among the duped journalists was his opposite number 
on the Herald Tribune. O’Neill gave Tesla far too much credit, 
Kaempffert said, as a result of adolescent hero worship. O’Neill had 
met Tesla while working as a page in the New York Public Library and 
allegedly wrote poems to him. Kaempffert’s attitude was perhaps 
explained by tire following incident described by O’Neill: 

In 1898 Tesla made a celebrated demonstration in Madison 
Square Garden of a remotely controlled robot boat and torpedoes. 
Kaempffert, then a student at City College, brashly engaged the 
famous scientist in conversation. 

“I see how you could load an even larger boat with a cargo of 
dynamite,” he volunteered, “cause it to ride submerged, and explode 
the dynamite whenever you wished by pressing the key just as easily 
as you can cause the light on the bow to shine, and blow up from a 
distance by wireless even the largest of battleships.” 

Tesla snapped back, “You do not see there a wireless torpedo. 
You see there the first of a race of robots, mechanical men which will 
do the laborious work of the human race.” 8 

Envious scientists and critical journalists were not to be the 
only sources of Tesla’s travail Occultists seemed attracted to him, and 


odd men and women preoccupied with even stranger matters flocked 
to his banner, proclaiming him their very own Venusian. He had been 
bom on Venus, they insisted, and arrived on Earth either by spaceship 
or on the wings of a large white dove. 9 

These unwelcome followers believed him to be a man of 
prophecy and great psychic power who “fell to Earth” to uplift 
ordinary mortals through the development of automation. Partly to 
discourage all who would attribute abnormal powers to him, Tesla 
went to great lengths to deny even the sensory gifts he actually 
possessed. In the same spirit, he went farther than that, expounding 
his mechanistic philosophy, proclaiming that human beings were 
without wills of their own, their every act the result of external events 
and circumstances. 10 Despite all his disclaimers, however, the strange 
champions continued to follow him, sometimes linking his name with 
unfortunate publicity schemes. Who but a charlatan, it was asked, 
would attract such people? 

One autumn evening Tesla’s hansom cab deposited him at the 
fashionable home of the Robert Underwood Johnsons? at 327 Lex- 
ington Avenue. Arc lights sparkled in the frosty air as cabriolets, 
broughams, and other smart carriages delivered a careful assortment 
of guests. From the opened door drifted the strains of a Mozart piano 
concerto. The Johnsons were not wealthy, but they evenhandedly 
accumulated millionaires, supermillionaires, poor artists, and intellec- 
tuals. Neither Robert nor Katharine understood much about science 
but they both adored Tesla for his varied charms. 

They were an attractive couple, he scholarly in appearance 
with a gift for languages, poetry, and repartee, Katharine petite and 
pretty, yet too intelligent and restless to be satisfied with her wife-and- 
mother role. 

In addition to cultivating artists, they were genuinely interested 
in the arts. Johnson was the associate editor of Century magazine and 
later became its editor Their home became a natural haven for the 
cultured Tesla, who missed the civilized rituals of Old World cities. Both 
he and Michael Pupin, although they came from the poorest back- 
grounds in Yugoslavia, had been appalled when they first confronted 
the vulgar clamor of America. At the Johnson home Tesla met 
prominent Continental artists, writers, and political figures as well as 
the cream of American society. 

He was introduced to the Johnsons in 1893 by Thomas 
Commerford Martin, and liked them immediately Soon the trio 


became fast friends. With Robert and Katharine, Tesla learned to relax 
his formal manners, to use first names, and even to relish the gossip of 
the times. Tesla’s relentless search for millionaires to finance his 
inventions became the subject of the trio’s favorite in-joke. 

When they were not together, they exchanged notes — some- 
times two or three times a day — by messenger. Over the years their 
correspondence amounted to thousands of letters between Robert 
and Nikola, but almost equally between Katharine and “Mr. Tesla,” as 
she unfailingly addressed him even when her notes made no effort to 
conceal the intensity of her feelings for him. It was not long until Tesla 
loosened up enough to give them nicknames, calling Johnson “Luka 
Filipov” after a legendary Serbian hero he admired, and Mrs. Johnson 
“Madame Filipov.” Johnson, in return, took up the study of Serbian. 

The invitations from the Johnsons to Tesla convey an idea of 
the frenetic social life the inventor was leading at this time. “Do drop in 
if you can on your way to the Leggett’s from the Van Allen’s. . . .” 
“Come meet the Kiplings,” “Come see Paderewski,” “Come to meet 
Baron Kaneko. . . .” In his acceptances, Tesla sometimes signed his 
notes to the “FilipovsP with such frivolous names such as Nicholas I. or 
the initials “G.I." (for Great Inventor). With few other friends did he feel 
able to be so playful. 

Thanks to the Johnsons, Tesla was now also being given 
access to those special preserves of privilege where the Idle Rich 
played at the game of life with such single-minded ostentation and 
vulgarity. Robert described for him the banquets given at Delmonico’s 
by the fabulously wealthy. They were called Silver, Gold, and Dia- 
mond dinners, depending upon which kind of jewelry was to be 
tucked into the napkins to surprise the women guests. Sometimes, for 
a taste thrill, cigarettes made of hundred dollar bills were passed 
around and smoked. 

And if he did not attend it, the inventor most certainly read in 
the society pages of the bizarre soiree called the Poverty Social. The 
event in question was given in the brownstone mansion of a western 
hides-and-tallow king. Guests were commanded to show up in dirty 
rags. They sat on a filthy floor, swilling beer from tin cans and eating 
scraps of food served to them by liveried footmen, on wooden plates. 
Sensitivity was not one of the hallmarks of the Gilded Age. 

But questions of taste aside, wealth had its undeniable attrac- 
tions. “The only way I shall ever have a cent,” said Tesla, “is when I 
have enough money to throw it out of the window in handfuls.” 11 

At this time he was living at the Gerlach, which declared itself 


on its letterhead to be a “strictly fireproof family hotel.” He chafed in 
these unglamorous surroundings and dreamed of the Waldorf on Fifth 
Avenue with its heavily gold-embossed stationery 

At file Johnson home, in addition to bang introduced to 
Rudyard Kipling, whom he and Robert considered one of the great 
poets of the age, he met the writers John Muir and Helen Hunt 
Jackson, the composers Ignace Paderewski and Anton Dvorak, the 
prima donna Nellie Melba, and a parade of socialites and politicians, 
including Senator George Hearst 12 He also met an unknown but 
strikingly handsome southerner just graduated horn the U.S. Naval 
Academy, Richmond Pearson Hobson. 

Tesla was already thirty-seven and a cosmopolitan, not easily 
impressed by new acquaintances. But he felt curiously attracted to the 
young officer whose boyish features were in such absurd contrast to 
the dark, swashing mustache he affected. Hobson was to come as 
close as any Serbian hero to Tesla’s ideal— the virile, romantic man of 
action who combined native intelligence with a cultured background 
Among the animadversions against Tesla were whispers that 
he was a homosexual. In another time or another country it might have 
made little difference to his career, but in Victorian America, in the 
sober company of engineers, such rumors were to become a virulent 
part of the arsenal of his enemies. Since he could never be bothered to 
repudiate gossip of any kind, at any time, the only explanation he ever 
cared to advance for his celibacy was the exclusive demands imposed 
by his work. This, however, was unacceptable to the society of the 
time, and the pressures upon him to marry were unrelenting. 

On the face of it, Tesla’s phobias made him an unlikely 
candidate for intimate relationships. He did however, at one period 
maintain an apartment at the luxurious Hotel Marguery on the west 
side of Park Avenue between 47th and 48th streets at the same time 
that his residence was at another hotel; and he once told Kenneth 
Swezey that he used it for meeting “special” friends and acquaint- 
ances. The statement, however, is open to many interpretations. 

The Johnsons introduced him to a parade of women who were 
comely, talented or rich, and sometimes all three. A fair number were 
said to be sexually attracted to him. He never responded in kind, but 
such attentions obviously gratified his ego. 

On the autumn evening when he arrived at the Johnson home 
to hear the strains of Mozart drifting from the door, he recognized the 


pianist as Marguerite Merington, one of his perennial favorites as a 
dinner partner. The admiration and affection he felt for her appeared 
to be as much as he was ever to feel for any woman. 

He was taken by Johnson to meet a tall, serious girl wearing an 
expensive French gown, modishly cinched in at the waist, with lace 
and a flower at the neckline. As she turned, her tawny eyes startled 
him. He was sure he had not met her, yet he had seen those eyes. An 
actress, perhaps? 

“Mss Anne Morgan,” said Johnson. “Mr. Tesla.” Then he left 


She nodded and returned her attention to the music. Tesla was 
amused. Of course. Her eyes had the same bold intelligence as her 
father’s. He could almost visualize her lighting up a black cigar. 
Johnson had said the girl was in love with him. If so, she seemed 
determined not to betray it Her poise, cultivated at so-called darned 
schools, impressed him. So rich and yet so lovely 

What a pity though, that the girl wore pearl earrings; they 
almost set his teeth on edge. He would have enjoyed talking with her, 
but the pearls made it impossible. Perhaps Robert would be kind 
enough to drop her a hint for the future. According to Elisabeth 
Marbury Anne had been so overprotected as to be almost pathetically 
childlike. But if Tesla was any judge, the self-possessed creature before 
him would very soon be shedding her cocoon. Her metamorphosis 
would be interesting to watch. 

The Johnsons, as he realized, were bound to tease him if he 
did not promptly display an interest in marrying the daughter of JL 
Pierpont Morgan. For an ambitious inventor in need of capital, he 
recognized the pitfalls in the situation. He could not decently encour- 
age the young woman in her infatuation, but he must be extremely 
diplomatic to avoid hurting her feelings. 

When the music ended, others claimed his attention. At parties 
these days he was always quickly surrounded. People longed to hang 
upon the words of the gifted spellbinder. The wealthy tended not to be 
scientifically critical, and Tesla relieved their boredom. He in turn 
enjoyed letting his fancies fly 

On the evening in question he made an excuse and sought out 
Marguerite whose candor he appreciated. Complimenting her on her 
performance, he asked somewhat tactlessly “Tell me. Miss. Why do 
you not wear diamonds and jewelry like the others?” 


“It is not a matter of choice with me,” she said “But if I had 
enough money to load myself with diamonds, I could think of better 
ways of spending it” 

“What would you do with money if you had it?” he asked with 


“I would prefer to purchase a home in the country, except that 
I would not enjoy commuting from the suburbs.” 13 

Tesla beamed Fancy a charming and talented woman who 
rejected jewels. He himself never wore even a tiepin or a watch chain. 

“Ah, Miss Merington, when 1 start getting my millions,” he 
said, “I will solve that problem. I will buy a square block here in New 
York and build a villa for you in the center and plant trees all around it 
Then you will have your country home and will not have to leave the 
city” 1 ' 

She laughed briefly wondering, perhaps, if this were some 
land of proposition. But it is unlikely she could have concluded that 
Tesla’s words were anything but banter 

According to one of the inventor’s close Mends, Marguerite 
later claimed to be the only woman who ever touched Tesla. The 
friend discounted it No record of intimacy linking her or any other 
woman to the inventor has ever been discovered. 

The same confidante said that Anne Morgan “threw herself” at 
Tesla. Again there is nothing to support the belief that they were more 
than friends. They were to enjoy parallel careers, Anne becoming a 
most vital and important woman in her own right Although her name 
would be linked with a succession of famous men, she would never 

Periodically to repay his social debts Tesla gave elaborate 
banquets at the Waldorf for members of the “400” and lesser mortals. 
Invitations were jealously sought for these splendid affairs. He person- 
ally selected the choicest foods and liquors, supervised their prepara- 
tion, hovered over the sauces, and anguished over the vintage wines. 
No cost was spared, and no plebeians were invited. 

After such affairs the guests were titillated by visits to his 
laboratory for private “showings,” and many a prophetic announce- 
ment appeared in the next day’s papers about his exciting inventions. 
He could not have chosen a more telling way to torment those of his 
scientific contemporaries who were excluded from such performances. 

But still his relative indifference to women continued to be a 
subject of international gossip One night as he sat in the Cafe de la 
Paix in Paris with a French scientist, a theater party passed that 


included the divine Sarah Bernhardt The actress coyly dropped her 
handkerchief He sprang to his feet and returned it to her without so 
much as raising his eyes and at once, to the dismay of the Frenchman, 
resumed his discussion of electricity 

Even the Electrical Review of London (August 14, 1896) 
devoted a lengthy editorial to chiding him: “Of course Mr. Tesla may 
be quite invulnerable to Cupid’s shafts, but somehow or other we 
doubt it We are great admirers of him and his work, and we give him 
credit for good hard sense. ... We have faith enough in women to 
believe that his fate will come, and that some one will be found who is 
not only a match for his intensity in all respects, but who will tax his 
inventive genius to the utmost for example, in trying to explain where 
he was at 2 o’clock some night . . . Whatever may be the cause of the 
abnormal condition in which this distinguished scientist finds himself, 
we hope that it will soon be removed, for we are certain that science in 
general, and Mr. Tesla in particular; will be all the richer when he gets 

The absurd quidnunc who wrote this editorial would never, of 
course, live to see his prophecy fulfilled. But neither would he be 
disappointed in Tesla’s future scientific and technical achievements, for 
the inventor was shortly to embark on one of the most extraordinary 
phases of his altogether extraordinary career. 

The event that signaled this new turn in Tesla’s fortunes was 
another long-distance telephone call from George Westinghouse. It 
was wonderful, astonishing news. The inventor quickly packed his 
bags and boarded a train for Niagara Falls 

I 9 ) 

High Road , Low Road 

It seemed almost too much success in such a short period. The 
Niagara Falls Commission, which for years had been swayed by the 
direful arguments of Edison and Lord Kelvin about the dangers of 
alternating current, announced in October 1893— just as Westing- 
house had predicted— that it was awarding to his firm the contract to 
build the first two generators at Niagara. 

The War of the Currents that had divided American industry so 
long and rancorously was to be settled with a victory for Tesla’s system 
of AC and Westinghouse’s perseverance. 1 No doubt this had resulted 
in large part from the unassailable visual testimony of their exhibitions 
at the Chicago World’s Fair. 

The war was to end with a compromise: General Electric was 
given the contract for building transmission and distribution lines from 
Niagara Falls to Buffalo. Both firms had submitted a proposal to install 
a Tesla polyphase generating system, for GE had obtained a license to 
use the Tesla patents and proposed to install a three-phase system. 
The Westinghouse proposal was for two-phase. 

In 1895 the powerhouse was completed by Westinghouse and 
ready to deliver 15,000 horsepower of electricity, a truly phenomenal 
achievement for the times. The following year GE completed the 
transmission and distribution lines, enabling power to surge across 
twenty-six miles to run the lights and streetcars of Buffalo. 

The harnessing of Niagara Falls proceeded on schedule. 
People spoke reverently of it as one of the official wonders of the world. 
Westinghouse built seven more generating units, which raised the 
production of electricity to 50,000 horsepower. General Electric 
constructed a second powerhouse that also used alternating current 
and built eleven more generators. 

Another historic first soon followed. AC was delivered to one ot 
its earliest and most significant customers, the Pittsburgh Reduction 
Company, which later became the Aluminum Company of America. 2 
The new metallurgical industry had been waiting for the high voltages 



that AC alone could supply. As Tesla had predicted, aluminum 
manufacture would soon permit the development of an aircraft 

An astounding aspect of the War of the Currents is that, like an 
ancient religious feud, it is still being waged Anyone reading the 
national advertising campaign launched by General Electric in the late 
1970’s would have erroneously concluded that GE alone harnessed 
Niagara Falls and that Tesla was merely an also-ran among inventors. 

Gardner H. Dales of the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation, 
addressing the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) on 
April 5, 1956, recollected more accurately: 

“If there ever was a man who created so much and whose 
praises were sung so little — it was Nikola Tesla. It was his invention, the 
polyphase system, and its first use by the Niagara Falls Power 
Company that laid the foundation for the power system used in this 
country and throughout the entire world today . . .” 

Actually, however, Tesla’s praises were well sung at this period 
and only later would it become convenient for the beneficiaries of his 
genius to grow forgetful. In the 1890’s his name and achievements 
were almost constantly in headlines. 

Newspapers and engineering journals alike saluted him. The 
New York Times declared that he owned the “undisputed honor” of 
making the Niagara enterprise possible, a sentiment echoed by 
George Forbes in Electricity (October 2, 1895). The achievement was 
covered widely in the world press. The Prince of Montenegro con- 
ferred upon him the Order of the Eagle. The coveted Elliott-Cresson 
Medal was awarded to him by the AIEE for his researches in high- 
frequency phenomena. And Lord Kelvin, now generous in his praise, 
declared that the inventor had “contributed more to electrical science 
than any man up to his time.” 

Soon alternating-current power systems were being built in 
New York City for the elevated and street railways, for steam-railway 
electrification, and were even being extended to the Edison 

Nevertheless the inventor and Westinghouse continued to be 
tom and worried by sore losers. The company defended its alternat- 
ing-current patents in some twenty court actions — including the one 
alluded to earlier that was determined by the U.S. Supreme Court — in 
each of which Westinghouse won a decisive victory. It filed actions 
against General Electric and others, and these too were successful. But 


as mentioned earlier, so much litigation created public confusion and 
left unhappy men. Some of these who had once praised Tesla now did 
their best to damage hint 

B. A. Behrend, later vice-president erf the AIEE and an acute 
observer of the contemporary scene, wrote: “It is a peculiar trait of 
ignorant men to go always from one extreme to another, and those 
who were once the blind admirers of Mr. Tesla, exalting him to an 
extent which can be likened only to the infatuated praise bestowed on 
victims of popular admiration, are now eagerly engaged in his 

Behrend found this deeply melancholy 

“I can never think of Nikola Tesla,” he added, “without 
warming up to my subject and condemning the injustice and ingrati- 
tude which he has received alike at the hands of the public and of the 
engineering profession.” 3 

Weary of the bickering and backbiting, the inventor returned to 
New York, more determined than ever to protect his time, aching to 
follow up half a dozen lines of research. 

He began to achieve effects with high-voltage equipment that 
opened an infinity of possibilities. By learning to create artificial 
lightning he hoped not only to discover how to control the world’s 
weather but also how to transmit energy without wires. And this in turn 
meshed with research that he hoped would enable him to build the 
first worldwide broadcasting system. 

Gratifying results came when he achieved tensions of about 
one million volts using a conical coil. Instinctively he felt that instead of 
going to larger and larger apparatus for high voltages, he might 
accomplish the same thing with the proper design of a comparatively 
small and compact transformer. 4 This problem obsessed him, but not 

If some spectacular experiment seemed to defy the most 
elemental laws of electricity, Tesla cheerfully followed wherever it led. 
Sometimes it led in strange directions. 

The radio tube, which involves the conduction erf current 
through a vacuum, is, practically speaking, the original electronic 
device. Its accidental ancestor was a vacuum lamp invented by Edison 
in 1883. He was puzzled by what came to be known as the Edison 
Effect but saw no value in it, other scientists such as Sir William Preece, 
J. A. Fleming, Tesla, Elihu Thomson, and J. J. Thomson, however, 
were most interested. J. J. Thomson figured out that the observed 
phenomenon was caused by the emission of negative electricity or 


electrons, passing from the hot element to the cold electrode. Edison, 
still puzzled and disappointed at not having found a good lamp, 
reported that the effect seemed to “impress some of the bulge-headed 
fraternity of the Savanic World.” He himself moved on to more 
pressing concerns. 

Tesla had begun developing vacuum tubes in the early 1890’s, 
fully expecting them to be suitable for detecting the transmission of 
radio signals. Later he engaged a full-time glass blower and invented 
thousands of versions which he used both in radio research and for the 
production of light 

It was Fleming who, after studying the work of Edison and 
Preece, successfully applied the Edison Effect to the detection of radio 
signals, achieving increased sensitivity over the crystal detectors then 
used. In 1907 Lee De Forest would add the grid or control element to 
the Fleming diode, calling it the Auction, and the science of modem 
electronics would be fairly launched 

Yet long before this, Tesla was describing his work with 
vacuum bulbs and high-frequency currents, sharing his own fascina- 
tion and puzzlement with his lecture audiences. Thus one day he 
placed a long glass tube, partially evacuated, within a longer copper 
tube with a closed end. A slit was cut in the copper tube to disclose the 
glass within. When he connected the copper to a high-frequency 
terminal, he found the air in the inner tube brilliantly lighted allhough 
no current seemed to be flowing through the short-circuiting copper 
shell. The electricity, it seemed, preferred to flow through the glass by 
induction and pass through the low-pressure air rather than traversing 
the metal path of the outer tube. 

In this the inventor saw a way of transmitting electric impulses, 
of any frequency in gases. “Could the frequency be brought high 
enough,” he speculated, “then a queer system of distribution, which 
would be likely to interest gas companies, might be realized; metal 
pipes filled with gas — the metal, being the insulator and the gas the 
conductor— supplying phosphorescent bulbs, or perhaps devices not 
yet invented.” 

In fact, what he was describing was the ancestor of the wave 
guide for microwave transmission. 

Tesla was led by this line of exploration to one of his most 
grandiose conceptions, the “terrestrial night light” — a way of lighting 
the whole Earth and its surrounding atmosphere, as though it were but 
a single illumination. He theorized that the gases in the atmosphere at 
high altitudes were in the same condition as the air in his partially 


evacuated tubes and hence would serve as excellent conductors of 
high-frequency currents. The concept intrigued him for many years. 
He saw it as a means of making shipping lanes and airports safer at 
night, or as a way of illuminating whole cities without the use of street 
lights. One had only to transmit sufficient high-frequency currents in 
the right form to the upper air, at an altitude of 35,000 feet or even 
lower. When asked how he proposed to conduct his currents to the 
upper air, he merely replied that it did not present any practical 
difficulties. It was his habit never to disclose methods until he had 
tested them in practice, and this was one of his ideas that was to be put 
aside for lack of research capital. 

Journalists continued to question him and to speculate. Some 
suggested that he planned to use one of his molecular bombardment 
tubes to project a powerful beam of ultraviolet rays into the at- 
mosphere, ionizing the air through great distances and making it a 
good conductor of electricity of all kinds at high voltages. This, they 
theorized, would provide a conducting path to any desired height 
through which he could send high-frequency currents. 5 Later, when 
his great (and ill-fated) world-broadcasting tower was built on Long 
Island, the upper platform was designed to receive a bank of powerful 
ultraviolet lamps. Their purpose was never revealed. 

At other times, Tesla talked of a plan for using both Earth and 
upper air as conductors of electricity and the stratum of air between as 
an insulator. This combination would form a kind of gigantic con- 
denser, a means of storing and discharging electricity. If the Earth were 
electrically excited, the upper air would be charged by induction. The 
globe would be transformed into a Leyden jar, charging and discharg- 
ing. A current flowing both in the ground and in the upper air would 
create a luminous upper stratum that would light the world. Was this 
how Tesla proposed to get his currents into the upper air? We do not 

In his London lectures of 1892 he had lingered fondly over the 
description of a most peculiar and sensitive vacuum tube he had 
invented. Under the influence of a high-frequency current it would 
shoot off a ray that behaved with strange sensitivity to electrostatic and 
magnetic influences. With this tube he could make curious experi- 

When the bulb hung straight down from a wire and all objects 
were remote from it, Tesla could by approaching it cause the ray to fly 
to the opposite side of the bulb; and if he walked around the bulb the 
ray would always be on the opposite side of it Sometimes the ray 


would begjn to spin wildly around the bulb. With a small permanent 
magnet he could slow down or accelerate the spinning according to 
the position of the magnet When most sensitive to the magnet 
however; it was less sensitive to electrostatic influence. He could not 
make even the slightest motion such as stiffening the muscles of his 
hand, without causing viable reaction in the ray 

Tesla believed it was formed by an irregularity in the glass that 
prevented it horn passing equally on all sides. Fascinated, he believed 
such a tool would be a valuable aid to investigating the nature of force 

“If there is any motion which is measurable going on in space,” 
he said, “such a brush ought to reveal it It is, so to speak, a beam of 
light frictionless, devoid of inertia. 

“I think that it may find practical applications in telegraphy. 
With such a brush it would be possible to send dispatches across the 
Atlantic, for instance, with any speed, since its sensitiveness may be so 
great that the slightest changes will affect it If it were possible to make 
the stream more intense and very narrow, its deflections could be 
easily photographed.” 

He had closed his lecture with the comment “The wonder is 
that with the present state of knowledge and the experiences gained, 
no attempt is being made to disturb the electrostatic or magnetic 
condition of the Earth, and transmit if nothing else, intelligence. . . ” 6 

The little vacuum tube, however, was not to figure usefully in 
his plans as a detector of electrical disturbances or radio signals from a 
distance. It remained a curiosity item. When used by Tesla as a 
detector it was so difficult to adjust that it was unsuitable except for 
laboratory research. 

But today, now that science has begun to take an interest in 
little-understood biological phenomena, Tesla’s strange vacuum tube 
may hold new interest It could, for example, have application in the 
control of autonomic functions of the body through biofeedback 
techniques. Or perhaps it might help us to understand the mysterious 
Kirlian effect Kirlian photography used in conjunction with high- 
frequency voltages of a Tesla coil, has created scientific interest in the 
human aura by disclosing to ordinary vision what may always have 
been apparent to psychics. Tesla’s 1890’s research showed that high- 
frequency currents move on or near the surface of conducting 
materials, similarly to the phenomenon of superconductivity It has 
been speculated that coronas appearing in Kirlian photographs may be 
file modulation of some kind of “carrier field” surrounding life forms. 


(Acupuncture points also may be related to such force fields.) It is thus 
possible to entertain the suggestion of a contemporary electrical 
engineer that Tesla’s hypersensitive vacuum tube might make an 
excellent detector not only of Kirlian auras but of other so-called 
paranormal phenomena, including the entities commonly called 

Since his return to New York, Tesla had lived almost a hermit’s 
existence. Only on the most tempting social occasions were the 
inventor’s friends any longer able to lure hin from his laboratory The 
late night fun and games had stopped. Robert and Katharine Johnson 
worried about him, warning him that all work and no play could bring 
on another breakdown. 

Katharine found the winter of 1893 passing slowly without his 
frequent company. In icy January she sent flowers to him in apprecia- 
tion of some gesture. He found time to send her an article by Professor 
Crookes and a Crookes radiometer, a little heat-powered windmill that 
spun in an evacuated bulb, and which he considered (or said he did) 
“the most beautiful invention made.” These small windmills, embody- 
ing in their simplicity Tesla’s ideal of an elegant solution, may still be 
seen, in the windows of novelty shops, their blades silently “fanned” 
by the sun. 

Although science was not her favorite subject, Katharine felt 
flattered and pleased. On a stormy afternoon in February she and 
Robert sat before an open fire, she feeling bored and restless. On the 
spur of the moment she wrote a note to Tesla and sent it off by 
messenger: “What are you doing these stormy days? We ... are 
wondering if anybody is coming in this evening to cheer us up, say 
about 9, or at 7 for dinner. We are very dull and very very comfortable 
before an open fire, but two is too small a number. For congeniality 
there must be three, especially when it snows ‘in my country.’ Is that 
wonderful machine in order again and are you ready for the photogra- 
phers and the thunderbolts and Juno and all the lesser gods and 
goddesses tomorrow? Come and tell us. We shall look for you, at 7 or 
9.” 7 But the machine was not in order, and the Johnsons were 
disappointed, Robert as much as Katharine. 

Later in the spring of 1894, however, his experiments were far 
enough along for Tesla to invite Johnson, Joseph Jefferson, Marion 
Crawford, and Twain to the laboratory to “take high-voltage sparks 


through their bodies?’ and to pose for the first photographs ever taken 
by gaseous tube lights. 

Despite his absorption in science, it was characteristic of Tesla 
that he found time in May to write an article for Johnson’s Century 
magazine on Zmaj Jovanovich, the chief Serbian poet. And the 
following spring he would be back in the pages of that journal with an 
article on his favorite hero, Luka Filipov. 

Later on in the year he would give John Foord of the New York 
Times a major article (September 30, 1894) in which, in addition to 
describing his theory of light, matter, ether, and the universe, he 
claimed that 90 percent of the energy in electric lights was wasted and 
that in the future there would be no need to transmit power at all, not 
even wirelessly. “I expect to live to be able to set a machine in the 
middle of this room,” he said, “and move it by no other agency than 
the energy of the medium in motion around us.” 

In this most productive period of his life, it is likely that he was 
at his happiest No intimation of approaching disaster marred his days. 
He was still living restively at the staid Gerlach Hotel, and on its 
letterhead, in his most gracious style, he wrote to Katharine, accepting 
at last an invitation to dinner: 

“Even dining at Delmonico’s is too much of a high life for me 
and I fear that if I depart very often from my simple habits I shall come 
to grief. I had formed the firm resolve not to accept any invitations, 
however tempting; but in this moment I remember that the pleasure of 
your company will soon be denied to me (as I am unable to follow you 
to East Hampton where you intend camping out this summer) — an 
irresistible desire takes hold of me to become a participant of that 
dinner, a desire which no amount of reasoning and consciousness of 
impending peril can overcome. In the anticipation of the joys and of 
probable subsequent sorrows, I remain. . . 

In June 1894, a coy message came from Katharine In East 
Hampton, chiding him for “sending disappointing and cold-blooded 
telegrams to kind expectant friends.” She added: “ ‘In my country’ one 
is never so cruel, especially after high honors when friends ate longing 
to felicitate one. But on such occasions one is so genial and happy one 
cannot say no to a friend but must wish his friend as happy as himself 
This is a friend ‘in my country’.” 9 The honors to which she alluded 
were the LL.D. from Columbia College and the Order of St Sava from 
the King of Serbia. 


Shortly afterward she tried a variation on her usual routine, 
inviting Tesla and one of his gentleman friends to dinner. But he was 
firm (and perhaps wary), replying that he vyould attend provided there 
was a woman for every man, and said he would be pleased if she 
asked Mss Merington. 

The summer passed and part of another winter with his friends 
almost never seeing him. He was intensely busy and apparently quite 
content, although perhaps sometimes during this period when his 
research seemed to lead in every direction at once, Tesla might have 
remembered with a smile Lord Rayleigh’s well-meant advice about 

Then, suddenly disaster struck. At 2:30 in the morning of 
March 13, 1895, his laboratory at 33-35 South Fifth Avenue caught 
fire. The six-story building in which it was located was destroyed, the 
cost to him being incalculable. All the expensive research apparatus 
that he and Kolman Czito had so laboriously built crashed right 
through from the fourth floor to the second where it came to rest a 
mass of molten, reeking metal 10 

Nothing was insured. But even had it been, it could not have 
covered his losses. Indeed, a million dollars, as he later said, could not 
have compensated for the resulting setbacks in his research. Stunned, 
sickened, he turned away horn the ruins in the cold early morning and 
wandered through the streets in a trance, paying no attention to where 
he was or to the passing of time. The Johnsons frantically searched for 
him in his familiar haunts. 

Newspapers all over the world reported the tragedy: “Work erf 
half a lifetime gone” “Fruits of Genius Swept Away” In London the 
Electrical World reported that the greatest loss was the physical 
collapse of the inventor. 11 Charles A. Dana of the New York Sun paid 
him the highest tribute: “The destruction erf Nikola Tesla’s workshop, 
with its wonderful contents, is something more than a private calamity 
It is a misfortune to the whole world. It is not in any degree an 
exaggeration to say that the men living at this time who are more 
important to the human race than this young gentleman can be 
counted on the fingers of one hand; perhaps on the thumb of one 
hand.” 12 

Only his closest assistants knew the dazzling scope of his 
advanced researches in radio, wireless transmission of energy, and 
guided vehicles, or that he was achieving effects with what the world 
would soon know as X rays, and also nearing a breakthrough in the 


potentially lucrative industrial discovery of a means of producing liquid 
oxygen. It may have been the latter volatile substance that caused the 
blaze — apparently started from a gas jet on the first floor near oil- 
soaked rags — to explode so rapidly through the entire building. 

An emotional letter from Katharine, written the day after the 
fire, finally reached him. She told of their search and the hope of 
consoling him in his “irreparable loss.” 

“It seemed as if you too must have dissipated into thin air. . . . 
Do let us see you again in the flesh that this awful thought may 
vanish,” she implored. “Today with the deepening realization of the 
meaning of this disaster and consequently with increasing anxiety for 
you, my dear friend, I am even poorer except in tears, and they cannot 
be sent in letters. Why will you not come to us now — perhaps we 
might help you, we have so much to give in sympathy . . ” 13 

The degree to which this strangely unresponsive man had 
begun to affect her life and happiness was no longer a question in her 

An Error of Judgment 

At this crucial point in his life Tesla, for all his worldwide fame, was 
close to being broke. The destroyed laboratory of the Tesla Electric 
Company was owned in part by A K. Brown and another associate. 
There were no longer any royalties from his alternating-current patents 
in America, nor any salary from Westinghouse. He had invested 
everything he owned in equipment for research. His only current 
resources were royalties from German patents on his polyphase 
motors and dynamos, which were a drop in the bucket compared to 
what he would need to rebuild and refurnish a laboratory 

He was not downcast for long, however, consoling himself with 
the fact that his ongoing research was still vivid in his mind and that 
the loss was merely a setback. 

To the rescue came Edward Dean Adams, the financier who 
had organized the International Niagara Commission when competing 
technologies were being examined for the harnessing of Niagara Falls. 
He was also president of the Morgan-backed Cataract Construction 
Company which, holding the charter for development of power at the 
Falls, had chosen Tesla's polyphase system. Hence he was well 
acquainted with the inventor’s record and impressed by his genius. 

Adams proposed not only to form a new company for his 
continued research, with a capitalization of $500,000, but he himself 
offered to subscribe to $100,000 in stock. For starters he gave Tesla 

The inventor at once began combing New York City for a new 
laboratory and soon found a location at 46 East Houston Street. He 
had a telephone installed (Spring 299) and began firing off a barrage 
of oral and written SOS’s to Westinghouse for replacement machinery 
To Albert Schmid, general superintendent of the Pittsburgh 
headquarters, he wrote: “You will greatly oblige me if you will do what 
is in your power to ship what is required with the least possible delay” 
And again: “Let me know immediately ... what is the smallest size 
rotating two-phase transformer you have in stock. . . ” l 

Only days later he asked that the machinery be sent by costly 



express rather than as freight, being in an agony to get on with 
interrupted research, especially in wireless, or radio, where the interna- 
tional race had already begun. 

Both Edison and William H. Preece, head of the British Postal 
Telegraph System, had been working with primitive “wireless” that 
used an inductive effect That is to say, Edison had sent a message 
from a moving train via a telegraph wire strung on poles along the 
track, bridging the intervening feet by induction. But such systems 
could work only over short distances, and Edison had characteristically 
lost interest 

More to the point Sir Oliver Lodge just the previous year had 
transmitted Morse signals between two buildings at Oxford University 
a distance of several hundred feet He had built a transmitter and 
receiver by putting a Hertz spark gap in a copper cylinder open at one 
end, thereby producing a beam of ultra-short-wave oscillations. 

Tesla explained to the Westinghouse superintendent that the 
machinery he was ordering was to be used in connection with his 
oscillators and a high efficiency was important “Please,” he pleaded, 
“do not spare any pains of expense. 1 shall rely as to the price entirely 
on the fairness of the Westinghouse Company I believe that there are 
gentlemen in that company who believe in a hereafter.” 2 

Assurances came horn the vice-president and general man- 
ager that the equipment was being shipped and that the price would 
be as low as possible After all, as Tesla occasionally reminded them, 
they benefited from valuable promotion when he used their equip- 
ment for his demonstrations. 

To Schmid he wrote again, exhorting him to make the rotary 
transformer excellent in every way To C. F. Scott, chief electrician at 
Pittsburgh, he urged that the schedule for building the transformer be 
advanced: “My work has been suddenly interrupted just as I was at the 
most interesting stage of the development of certain ideas, and I need 
very much my apparatus to begin work anew.” 

Only weeks later Scott received another message in the same 
vein of urgency: “This land of work is almost essential to my health, 
and I hope that its resumption will have a good effect upon me.” 

Even while buying equipment Tesla was mulling over the 
tempting offer of Edward Dean Adams to join forces in a new 
company that would mean the powerful financial backing of the 
House of Morgan. But he was very leery of it, having seen the Morgan 
takeover of both the Thomson-Houston Company and the Edison 
Electric Company to form General Electric. And he remembered well 


how they had coveted and threatened the autonomy of Westinghouse. 
So he made one of his many errors of judgment in finance, accepting 
the $40,000 from Adams but rejecting the larger alliance. 

His good friend Johnson was only one of those who thought 
him mistaken for cutting himself off from the security represented by 
the House of Morgan. Tesla sighed, spread his long hands expressively; 
and spoke of protecting his precious freedom. Undoubtedly he 
believed that with the $40,000 he could bring to commercial stage at 
least some of the inventions on which he was currently nearing 
success. As usual, however, he underestimated the time and the costs 

“No other discovery within my lifetime,” Michael Pupin wrote, 
“had ever aroused the interest of the world as did the discovery of the 
X rays. Every physicist dropped his own research problems and rushed 
headlong into the research. . . ” 3 

Roentgen announced his discovery in December 1895. Edi- 
son, mired in a perennial and ultimately disastrous effort to mine ores 
magnetically, quickly sent a wire to a former associate, urging him to 
drop everything and join a group to experiment on “Rotgens” (sic) new 
radiations. “We could do a lot before others get their second wind,” he 

The opportunity to see the internal structure of the human 
body captivated everyone, and it was obvious to scientists and 
engineers that some sort of fluoroscopic screen would be needed to 
register the rays after their passage through the body 

The ways in which Edison, Pupin, and Tesla severally pro- 
ceeded with their X-ray research were characteristic of their different 
personalities. 4 Edison, seeing where the commercial potential lay, 
began at once to test various chemicals and quickly reported that 
calcium tungstate crystals gave a good fluorescence on a screen. Then 
he rushed to the Patent Office. 

Pupin noted in his diary that American physicists had paid little 
attention to vacuum-tube discharges and that, to the best of his 
knowledge, he was the only American physicist with any experience. 
Hence when Roentgen’s discovery had been announced, “I was, it 
seems, better prepared than anybody else in this country to repeat his 
experiments and succeeded, therefore, sooner than anybody else on 
this side of the Atlantic.” 5 He claimed to have obtained the first X ray in 
the United States on January 2, 1896, two weeks after the discovery 
was announced by Roentgen in Germany 


This was curious in view of Tesla’s pioneer love affair with 
vacuum tubes, which he had demonstrated in his series of lectures in 
1891, 1892, and 1893. Although Tesla always gave full priority to 
Roentgen, he had spoken then of both “visible and invisible” rays 
when demonstrating his molecular-bombardment lamp and other 
gaseous lamps, and he was using uranium glass and a vanety of 
phosphorescent and fluorescent substances for detecting radiation. 
During experiments he carried on in the fall of 1894 with the assistance 
of the Manhattan photographers Tonnele & Company on the radiant 
power of phosphorescent bodies, “a great number of plates showed 
curious marks and defects.” It was just as he was beginning to explore 
the nature of these phenomena that his laboratory burned down. 6 

When Professor Roentgen announced his discovery of X rays 
in December of that year, Tesla immediately forwarded shadowgraph 
pictures to the German, who replied: “The pictures are very interest- 
ing. If you would only be so kind as to disclose the manner in which 
you obtained them.” 

The Pupin claim to have been the first in the United States 
experimenting with vacuum-tube discharges would have been unlikely 
even if Tesla had not preceded him. Apparently they were being 
investigated in numerous laboratories in America and Europe, and 
after Roentgen’s announcement a dozen claims were made to “firsts 
in X ray. Tesla never made any such claim in his own behalf. The first 
clinical radiograph in North America is said by some to have been 
made in the basement of Reid Hall at Dartmouth College on February 
4, 1896, 7 by a laboratory assistant 

But Edward R. Hewitt, an inventor doing photographic re- 
search at this time, has left an intriguing anecdote. His own researches 
“began on the morning when Nikola Tesla took a picture of Mark 
Twain under a Geissler tube which proved to be no picture of Twain 
but a good one of the adjusting screw of the camera lens.” 

“Neither Tesla nor Hewitt,” wrote Noel F. Busch in Life 
Magazine (July 15, 1946), “realized until a few weeks later, when 
Roentgen announced the discovery of X rays, that the picture of Twain 
was in fact an example of X-ray photography the first ever made in the 
U.S.” This is, of course, hardly proof of priority of invention, which 
includes much more than achieving accidental effects, but it does 
suggest how far advanced Tesla’s research was at this time. 

Whereas Edison hastened to try to profit from Roentgen’s 
discovery and Pupin was quick to try to share in its glory Tesla’s less 
self-interested response was to begin an exhaustive series of experi- 


ments in X-ray phenomena and technique, the results of which he 
published, beginning in March 1896, in a series of articles in the 
Electrical Review. 8 

While his competitors were using Roentgen tubes for the 
production of weak shadows of hands and feet, Tesla claimed to be 
making forty-minute photographs through the human skull at forty 
feet. If this were true, he would have to have been using equipment far 
more advanced than anything we now believe existed at that time. 

On April 6, 1896, Professor Pupin reported to the New York 
Academy of Sciences: “Every substance when subjected to the action 
of the X rays becomes a radiator of these rays,” and thus claimed to 
have discovered secondary radiation. But Tesla had already publicly 
reported in the Electrical Review (March 18, 1896): “I have lately 
obtained shadows by reflected rays only,” and described how he had 
excluded direct rays to obtain this effect In testing various kinds of 
metals, he discovered that the most electropositive made the best 
“reflector^’ of Roentgen rays. 

Many competitors had now entered the field, including such 
well-known inventors as A. E. Kennelly and Edwin Jl Houston, who 
used a simple form of Tesla coil to produce Roentgen rays. The 
practical Edison, delighted by the public’s enthusiasm, made a number 
of fluoroscopes in the form of boxes with peepholes and placed them 
on display at the Electrical Exposition of 1896 at the Grand Central 
Palace in New York. This was the first opportunity Americans had to 
see their skeletal shadows, and they clamored for a place in line. Many 
were disappointed at not being allowed to view their brains in action. A 
gambler wrote to Edison asking for an X-ray device with which he 
could play against the faro bank. 9 

Prudes worried about the danger of unscrupulous manufac- 
turers making X-ray binoculars, enabling voyeurs to strip them naked 
as they strolled in Sunday finery along Fifth Avenue. Well into the 
1940’s the foot X-ray machine in shoe stores would provide a 
consumer come-on for small-town America. 

On the theory that blindness might be cured with X rays, 
numerous “treatments?’ were given by doctors. To the contrary, as is 
now known, radiation can cause “flashes?’ in the eye and, with 
overexposure, cataracts. Tesla pointed out that no evidence whatever 
existed for the blindness “cure” and discouraged the building up of 
false hopes as cruel. Edison too deplored this yet as a recent 
biographer notes, “he jumped in and conducted the tests along with 
other scientific men and doctors.” 10 

Tesla’s research, which was fundamental and well-docu- 


mented, convinced him that X rays were composed of discrete 
particles. This proved to be incorrect; but so were almost everyone 
else’s theories in this early period Dr. Lauriston S. Taylor, a radio- 
logical physics consultant and recent past president of the NCRP, says, 
“Nevertheless his reasoning was good and much to his credit” 

Almost simultaneously, at Cambridge University in England, 
the physicist Joseph JL Thomson had built a vacuum tube with two 
charged plates and a fluorescent screen. He discovered that the 
radiation caused by the flow of currents made dots on the screen. Both 
magnetic and electric fields deflected the rays of electricity, which 
convinced him that they were charged particles. Since the ratio of the 
charge on the particles to their mass was always the same, he 
hypothesized that he had discovered “matter in a new state” from 
which all the chemical elements were built up. Some years later 
Thomson was credited with having discovered (in 1897) the electron — 
a very light particle associated with the elementary charge of negative 
electricity and the fundamental building block of the atom. 

Max Planck in 1900 proposed a law for electromagnetic 
radiation— the quantum theory And five years later Einstein ex- 
plained, with his special theory of relativity, that all radiation, though it 
consisted of quanta of different amounts of energy traveled at the 
speed of light His fundamental equations described the exchange of 
energy that took place when radiation and matter interacted. 

From this new realm of physics came knowledge of the 
properties of different kinds of electromagnetic radiations. Radio 
waves, at the lowest frequency stretched for thousands of miles. In the 
order of rising frequencies came microwaves, infrared radiation, viable 
light ultraviolet radiation, X rays, and gamma rays — the latter incredi- 
bly short 

Tesla and other early experimenters with X rays were exploring 
treacherous territory It was clear that radiation would be useful in 
detecting foreign objects in the body or bone fractures, but its full 
medical potential and the effect of such rays on human health entailed 
dangerous trial-and-error research. 

“Yet in spite of some grievous accidents with X rays for their 
first twenty-five years,” says Dr. Taylor, “there were surprisingly few 
who suffered from overexposure — certainly not everyone.” 11 

Tesla, entranced with the novel and mysterious force, was one 
of those who at first refused to believe there was danger. Convinced he 
had discovered a way of “stimulating” his brain, he exposed his head 
repeatedly to radiation. 

“An outline of the skull is easily obtained with an exposure of 


20 to 40 minutes,” he wrote. “In one instance an exposure of 40 
minutes gave clearly not only the outline, but the cavity of the eye . . . 
the lower jaw and connections to the upper one, the vertebral column 
and connections to the skull, the flesh and even the hair” 12 

He noted strange effects: "... a tendency to sleep and the time 
seems to pass away quickly There is a general soothing effect and I 
have felt a sensation of warmth in the upper part of the head An 
assistant independently confirmed the tendency to sleep and a quick 
lapse of time.” 

From such effects he was more than ever inclined to believe 
that the radiation was of material streams penetrating the cranium. And 
he was first to suggest that X rays would be used therapeutically — 
perhaps to “project chemicals into the human body” 13 

It is difficult to gauge at this date the degree of exposure to 
which he subjected himself. And indeed, insofar as the brain is 
concerned, it is still not known what its physiological tolerances are to 
high-energy radio-frequency fields. 

Edison damaged his eyes with X-ray exposure. One of his 
assistants contracted a gradually spreading skin cancer from which he 
died several years later 

Tesla described carefully the effects of X rays upon his own 
^es, body hands, and brain, differentiating between skin bums and 
what he considered to be internal effects. In the spring of 1897 he was 
mysteriously ill for several weeks. He reported receiving frequent 
sudden and painful shocks in the eye from X-ray equipment His 
hands were repeatedly exposed. 

“In a severe case,” he wrote, “the skin gets deeply colored and 
blackened in places, and ugly ill-foreboding blisters form; thick layers 
come off exposing the raw flesh.... Burning pain, feverishness and 
such symptoms are of course but natural accompaniments. One single 
injury of this kind in the abdominal region to a dear and zealous 
assistant — the only accident that ever happened to anyone but myself 
in all my laboratory experience— I had the misfortune to witness.” 14 
This had followed an exposure of five minutes, only a few 
inches from a highly charged tube. But apart from skin damage, he 
noted that such radiation caused a feeling of warmth deep in the flesh, 
a fact that was to inspire his continuing work in therapeutics. 

It is now known that X rays may be of two kinds — ’’hard” or 
“soft,”meaning that the latter have longer wavelengths and lower 


energies. They are more easily absorbed than hard X rays. Even so 
they are of high energy compared to ultraviolet or visible light rays. 

Tesla’s research very quickly convinced him that safety mea- 
sures were needed. He lectured to the New York Academy of Science 
on April 6, 1897, on the practical construction and safe operation of X- 
ray equipment as well as reporting his observations of the dangers of 
Roentgen rays. He had already experimented with various metal 
protective devices, and soon thereafter lead shields came into general 

An important figure entered the inventor’s life at this juncture. 
In preparing for his Academy of Science lecture he was supplied with 
lantern slides and cathode tubes by an eager new assistant named 
George Scherff 

At first his secretary Scherff was to become a financial and 
legal adviser; bookkeeper, office manager, stockholder, factotum, 
friend, and during acute financial squeezes, a nearly-always-reliable 
source of small loans. Devoted through good times and lean, he was to 
become Tesla’s most loyal and least dispensable employee. 

Scherff never complained about long hours, scanty rewards, 
or the occasional thoughtlessness of his boss. If it meant depriving his 
own family to help Tesla out of a tight spot, the good and frugal Scherff 
would manage. He never questioned the fact that he was always Mr 
Scherff the loyal functionary never an intimate or social equal He 
truly worshipped Tesla, learned more about his affairs than anyone 
else, and would go to his grave with sealed lips where the inventor's 
private matters were concerned. If ever there was a faithful friend 
standing behind a great man, it was George Scherff behind Nikola 

Many people continued to worry about why no good woman 
could be seen standing behind the celebrated inventor. Important 
people were expected to procreate for the good of the country Urging 
Tesla to get married in 1896 were not just gossip columnists. Technical 
journals like the Electrical Review of London, the American Electrician, 
and the Electrical Journal also took up the hue and cry. 

Tesla’s expertise in handling such queries is apparent at the 
end of a long interview he gave to a reporter for the New York Herald, 
who came upon him one night slumped in a cafe at a late hour, 
looking haggard and tired. He was still brooding at times over the 


setbacks he had suffered when his laboratory burned, but it was 
apparent to the reporter from his pallor and the look in his eyes that 
something was seriously troubling him. 

“I am afraid,” began Tesla, “that you won’t find me a pleasant 
companion tonight The fact is, I was almost killed today.” 15 

He had gotten a shock of about 3.5 million volts from one of 
his machines. 

“The spark jumped three feet through the air,” he said, “and 
struck me here on the right shoulder. I tell you it made me feel dizzy. If 
my assistant had not turned off the current instantly it might have been 
the end of me. As it was, I have to show for it a queer mark on my right 
breast where the current struck in and a burned heel in one of my 
socks where it left my body Of course the volume of current was 
exceedingly small, otherwise it must have been fatal.” 16 

It is possible that he was even minimizing the accident because 
of Edison’s long campaign against “deadly AC.” 

The reporter asked how far sparks could travel. 

“I have frequently had sparks from my high-tension machines 
jump the width or length of my laboratory, say thirty to forty feet,” he 
said. “Indeed, there is no limit to their lengths, although you can’t see 
them except for the first yard or so, the flash is so quick. . . .Yes, I am 
quite sure I could make a spark a mile long, and I don’t know that it 
would cost so much either.” 

Asked whether he had suffered many accidents while working 
with electricity, he said, “Very few. I don’t suppose I average more than 
one a year, and no one has ever been killed by one of my machines. I 
always build my machines so that whatever happens it cannot kill 
anyone. The burning of my laboratory two years ago was the most 
serious accident I ever had. No one knows what I lost by that” 

For a moment he sat reflecting. Then, speaking in the third 
person, he began to explain the main source of sadness in a prolific 
inventor’s life. 

“So many ideas go chasing through his brain that he can only 
seize a few of them as they fly and of these he can only find the time 
and strength to bring a few to perfection. And it happens many times 
that another inventor who has conceived the same ideas anticipates 
him in carrying one out of them. Ah, I tell you, that makes a fellow’s 
heart ache.” 

When the laboratory burned, he said, there was destroyed 
with it the apparatus he had devised for liquefying air by a new 


method “I was on the eve of success, and in the months of delay that 
ensued, a German scientist solved the problem. . . 

It was Linde who anticipated him in this important commercial 
breakthrough of liquid oxygen. Tesla had been seeking a means of 
refrigeration for the artificial insulation of electrical mains. 

“I was so blue and discouraged in those days,” he said, “that I 
don’t believe I could have borne up but for tire regular electric 
treatment which 1 administered to myself. You see, electricity puts into 
the tired body just what it most needs — life force, nerve force. It’s a 
great doctor, I can tell you, perhaps the greatest of all doctors.” 

Asked if he were often depressed, he said, “Perhaps not 
often. . . .Every man of artistic temperament has relapsed from the great 
enthusiasms that buoy him up and sweep him forward. In the main my 
life is very happy, happier than any life 1 can conceive of.” 

He described the overmastering excitement of his research. “I 
do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like 
that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding 
to success. . . .Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, 
love, everything.” 

It was as if he had purposely led the reporter to the next 
question. Did he believe In marriage “for persons of artistic 

Tesla considered carefully 

“For an artist, yes; for a musician, yes; for a writer, yes; but for 
an inventor, no. The first three must gain inspiration from a woman’s 
influence and be led by their love to finer achievement, but an inventor 
has so intense a nature with so much in it of wild, passionate quality 
that in giving himself to a woman he might love, he would give 
everything, and so take everything from his chosen field. I do not think 
you can name many great inventions that have been made by married 

Whether this struck the interviewer as a sly put-down of 
Edison, with his two marriages, he did not indicate. 

Tesla hesitated and then, adverting to his single estate, added 
with what the reporter described as pathos, “It’s a pity too, for 
sometimes we feel so lonely” 

To Mara 

Letters from Katharine betrayed both the mercurial state of her 
emotions and the steady state of her interest in Tesla. At this remove of 
time, it is difficult to know what to make of these curious missives. 
Effusive and intimate, they sometimes seem to stop just short erf 
becoming love letters, but if Katharine was tending in that direction, 
Tesla gave her little encouragement 

On April 3, 1896, she invited him to their home, commenting 
that although he had looked ill when she had last seen him, yet he had 
managed to cheer her up, and “now I need to be brought up again.” 
She mentioned that it was Easter. “I have always wondered when the 
great changes are in progress if you know of them,” she wrote. “Do 
you know when Spring is near? It used to make me so happy and now 
it brings me only sorrow. It means so much that I would fain escape . . . 
disintegration, separation. I wish that I, like you, could go on forever 
and forever in the same routine, without break, living my own life, as 
you say you do. I do not know whose life I live, it has not seemed my 
own. You must come tomorrow evening, you see.” 1 

The Johnsons spent a part of that summer in Maine, but 
separation from the inventor only increased Katharine's sadness and 
her concern for his health. 

“You are making a mistake, my dear friend, almost a fatal 
one,” she wrote. “You think you do not need change and rest You are 
so tired you do not know what you need. . ..” 2 

In reply to these warm letters, Tesla alternately teased her or 
sent flowers when he thought of it Perhaps he sensed he might be on 
treacherous ground. Robert was also his friend, and Robert loved 
Katharine, and .... But at least he probably did not have to worry 
about his own feelings. He had scarcely ever known a moment of 

With Johnson he exchanged notes on religion, poetry, and 
whether or not he should pose for a certain painter of fashionable 
portraits for the May number of Century. A casual effusiveness had 
entered their correspondence, a “Dear Luka” from Tesla to Johnson 
saying, “I am glad to know that you still love me. . . ,” 3 


TO MARS <— » 109 

Although he was no orthodox believer, Tesla commended 
religion as an excellent thing for others. In this period when anxiety 
over his inventions was stretched almost beyond bearing, and his 
pocketbook was equally thin, he became interested in Buddhism. It 
and Christianity; he believed, were to be the most important religions 
of the future. He therefore sent a book on Buddhism to Johnson, who 
replied: “Sir Knight I did not know you were enlisted on that side of 
the campaign, but now when I read it I shall think of you even more 
frequently than usual — which is by no means seldom, let me assure 
you.” 4 

Days later when the Johnsons again invited him to dinner; he 
joked about his weakness for elegant people: “If you have visitors 
(ordinary mortals) I will not come. If you have Paderewski, Roentgen, 
or Mrs. Anthony — I will come. Please answer.” 5 

Christmas of that year was not a happy occasion for Katharine, 
despite or perhaps because of the usual efforts at family gaiety She felt 
trapped. Although her children and husband were dear to her and she 
usually enjoyed the social round, a vital part of her life seemed 
missing. Was it worth living only for the slow disintegration she felt? 
The day following Christmas she wrote to Tesla: 

“I have tried several times to thank you for the roses. They are 
before me as I write — so strong, so superb in color. . . .1 must always 
when I write to you make several attempts, a system of repression 
because I can never express what I would say. I did not mean to be 
severe the other evening. I was only wrapped up in disappointment I 
miss you very much and wonder if it is always to go on this way and if I 
can ever become accustomed to not seeing you. However I am glad to 
know that you are well and happy and prosperous. With every land 
wish for the New Year my dear friend.” 5 

Typically when Tesla got around to responding, he tried to 
lighten the mood with chiding. He only succeeded in being cruel, 
going on about how he had found her sister, whom he had recently 
met much more pretty and charming than she. Then he went back to 

After the lectures of 1893 in which he had described in detail 
the six basic requirements of radio transmission and reception, he had 
built equipment that could be operated between his laboratory and 
various points within New York City The fire had destroyed all this and 
had set back his research, but by the spring of 1897, with financial help 
horn Adams and strong support from Westinghouse, he was prepared 
to move ahead. 

TO MARS <— » 110 

He announced to the Electrical Review in August, before filing 
his basic radio patents, that successful tests had been made, but the 
report was guarded and general: “Already he has constructed both a 
transmitting apparatus and an electrical receiver which at distant points 
is sensitive to the signals of the transmitter, regardless of earth currents 
or points of the compass. And this has been done with a surprisingly 
small expenditure of energy” 

By disturbing the “electrostatic equilibrium” at any point on 
the Earth, the Review explained, the disturbance could be dis- 
tinguished at a distant point and thus “the means of signalling and 
leading signals becomes practicable once the concrete instruments are 
available.” By actual testing, said the report, he “has really accom- 
plished wireless communication over reasonably long distances . . . and 
has only to perfect apparatus to go to any extent . . ” 7 

Tesla made tests from a boat chugcpng up the Hudson River, 
carrying the receiving set twenty-five miles from his new laboratory on 
Houston Street And this was only a fraction of what his instruments 
were capable of doing. 

He filed his basic patent applications No. 645,576 and 
649,621 on September 2, 1897, and they were granted in 1900. Later, 
as we have noted, they would be contested in long litigation by 
Marconi; but first Tesla would sue the Italian for infringement 8 

In 1898 he filed and was granted patent No. 613,809 which 
described radio remote control for use in guided vehicles. Here was yet 
another potentially spectacular application of wireless transmission. He 
could scarcely wait to show the public not just radio or the first 
breakthrough in automation, but both at once. 

The year before when speaking at Buffalo on the occasion of 
introducing Niagara Rills power, GE having just completed its lines, 
Tesla had declared that he now hoped to see the fulfilment of his 
fondest dream, “namely, the transmission of power from station to 
station without the employment of any connecting wire....” 9 The 
visiting dignitaries — engineers, industrialists, financiers — had listened 
with mixed emotions. This gifted madman seemed bent on malting 
whole systems obsolete as soon as they came into being, and just 
when they promised to start earning profits. But soon newspapers 
around the world were announcing that he had developed equipment 
that not only would transmit energy and intelligence through the Earth 
for a distance of twenty miles, but that he also could send it wirelessly 
through the air. 10 

TO MARS <— » 111 

And so certain was Tesla that he now claimed that communica- 
tion with Mars would be possible in a short time. 

An announcement was carried by the Electrical Review de- 
scribing how Mr. Tesla had invented apparatus “capable of generating 
electrical pressures vastly in excess of any heretofore used,” with which 
the current “can be conducted to a terminal maintained at an elevation 
where the rarefied atmosphere is capable of conducting freely the 
particular current produced At a distant point where the energy is to 
be used commercially a second terminal is maintained at about the 
same elevation to attract and receive the current, and to convey it to 
earth through special means for transforming and utilizing it” 11 

The article was illustrated with streamers representing electrical 
pressure of 2.5 million volts pouring from a single coil. Other 
publications showed huge stationary balloons being used to maintain 
the terminals at required elevations. 

“Tesla now proposes," the Electrical Review continued, “to 
transmit without the use of any wires through the natural media— the 
earth and the air— great amounts of power to distances of thousands of 
miles. This will appear a dream, a tale from the ‘Arabian Nights.’ But 
the extraordinary discoveries Tesla has made during a number of years 
of incessant labor ... make it evident that his work in this field has 
passed the stage of laboratory experiment, and is ready for a practical 
test on an industrial scale. The success of his efforts means that power 
feom such sources as Niagara will become available in any part of the 
world regardless of distance.” 12 

Some of the articles appearing at this time reported the goal as 
a fait accompli, carrying such headlines as, “Tesla Electrifies the Whole 
Earth.” Michael Pupin read Tesla’s claim about being able to communi- 
cate with Mars and uttered a mute appeal to the patron saint of 
transplanted Serbs. Along with other scientific colleagues, he won- 
dered, What next? Long ago as a boy herding cattle along the military 
frontier of Serbia, he had learned about the importance of the Earth as 
a conductor of acoustical resonance. He and the other boys had stuck 
their knives into the earth at night, falling asleep with their ears against 
the blades. The merest sound of moving cattle or of marauding 
Romanians stealing through the cornstalks would quickly awaken 

Later Pupin realized that an oscillator sending out electrical 
waves would penetrate longer distances when one of its sides was 
connected to the Earth. But to speak of sending wireless signals to 

TO MARS <— » 112 

Mais seemed palpable nonsense, “because there would not be the 
acoustical resonance of earth to cover great distances.” 

Such minor considerations did not deter Tesla, however, as he 
built equipment that exceeded anything ever designed before. He built 
many shapes, sizes, and varieties of Tesla coils, or high-frequency 
transformers, including a flat-spiral resonant transformer that repre- 
sented a beautiful evolution in design and with which he could 
produce electromotive forces of many millions of volts. 

One of the major problems associated with very high-voltage 
apparatus is the loss due to corona and other spurious discharges, 
which severely “drag down” the output and ultimately limit maximum 
capability. To these problems Tesla succeeded in evolving elegant 

He considered the ultimate design to be a transformer having a 
secondary in which the parts, charged to a high potential, were of 
considerable area and arranged in space along ideal enveloping 
surfaces of very large radii of curvature, and at proper distances from 
one another, thereby insuring a small electric surface density every- 
where. Thus no leak could occur even if the conductor were bare. This 
design was exemplified in his flat-spiral coil. 

In his laboratory he had installed a two-turn primary circuit 
running all around the large room and it was this coil, plus the 
associated circuit interrupters, that he would later ship to Colorado to 
drive his magnifying transmitter. The primary was buried in the 
ground, and it probably had such special characteristics as a very large 
diameter and multistrands. 

With such equipment, he felt, there were no limits: a message 
could be sent to Mars almost as easily as to Chicago. “I found that 
there was practically no limit to the tension available,” he wrote in the 
Electrical Review, and “I discovered the most important of all facts 
arrived at in the course of my investigation in these fields. One of these 
was that the atmospheric air, though ordinarily a perfect insulator, 
conducted freely the currents of immense electro-motive force pro- 
ducible by such coils. . . .So great is the conductivity of the air, that the 
discharge issuing from a single terminal behaves as if the atmosphere 
were rarefied. Another fact is that this conductivity increases very 
rapidly with the rarefaction of the atmosphere and augmentation of the 
electrical pressures, to such an extent that at barometric pressures 
which permit of no transit of ordinary currents, those generated by 
such a coil pass with great freedom through the air as through a copper 
wire .” 13 

TO MARS <— » 113 

He had proved conclusively, he said, that great amounts of 
electrical energy could be transmitted through the upper air strata to 
almost any distance. And he learned what he considered an equally 
important fact: that the discharges of an electromotive force of a few 
million volts excited powerful affinities in the atmospheric nitrogen, 
causing it to combine with oxygen and other elements. “So energetic 
are these actions and so strangely do such powerful discharges 
behave,” he said, “that I have often experienced a fear that the 
atmosphere might be ignited, a terrible possibility, which Sir William 
Crookes, with his piercing intellect, has already considered. Who 
knows but such a calamity is possible?” 

Electrical resonance was not Tesla’s original idea, for Lord 
Kelvin had introduced the mathematical potential of the condenser 
discharge; but Tesla exhumed the equation and gave it vibrant life. 

In the 1899 Electrical Review article in which Tesla expressed 
fear of setting fire to the sky, several startling photographs appeared of 
the inventor working with the apparatus he had been building. 14 One 
records a spectacular display of lightning achieved with pressure of 
about eight million volts in an experiment for transmitting electrical 
energy great distances without wires. Another shows the inventor 
holding a disconnected, brilliantly lighted vacuum bulb of 1,500 
candlepower, the light being used for the photograph. The frequency 
is measured in millions per second. 

A third shows Tesla in brilliant relief, with a coil energized by 
the waves of a distant oscillator and adjusted to the capacity of his own 
body, which is preserved from injury “by maintaining a position at the 
nodal point, where the intense vibration is little felt” The pressure on 
the end of the coil, which is illuminated by powerful streamers, is 
nearly half a million volts. 

A final photograph in this eerily remarkable series bears the 
caption: “In this experiment the operator’s body is charged to a great 
pressure by a direct connection with an oscillator. The photograph 
shows a conducting bar, carrying on the end a sheet of tin of 
determined size, held in hand. The operator is on the top of a 
stationary electrical wave and the bar and sheet are both illuminated 
by the violently agitated air surrounding them. One of the vacuum 
tubes used in lighting the laboratory, though at considerable distance 
on the ceiling, glows brightly, being affected by the vibrations transmit- 
ted to it from the operator’s body.” 

Tesla delighted in such magic, but for critics who might think 
him more interested in effects than utility, he added that there were to 

TO MARS <— » 114 

be mundane rewards as well. With the tools of electrical resonance and 
circuits in exact synchronism, he said, nitrogen could be extracted from 
the air and valuable fertilizer manufactured. Also light, “diffusive like 
that of the sun,” could be produced with an economy greater than that 
obtainable in the usual ways and with lamps that never burned out 

His dreams were Utopian: Earth delivered from hunger and 
toil; easy world communication; control of weather, a bountiful supply 
of energy; limitless light and last but not least a link with the forms of 
life he was convinced existed on other planets. Martians he regarded 
as a “statistical certainty” 

Meanwhile, for his friends of a more pedestrian nature, life 
continued as usual. Katharine sent him a poignant and critical letter, 
inviting him to yet another party and reminding him that he was 
neglecting his friends. The Johnson children were growing up, and she 
could foresee a day when even they would have no need of her Time 
raced, and she was suffering from intimations of mortality: “Do leave 
aside the millionaires, high-sounding titles, the Waldorf and Fifth 
Avenue. . . ,” she wrote, “for some simple everyday people who are 
distinguished only by a great weakness. . . . 

“I have heard lots of things about you— 1 am sure some of 
them you don’t know of yourself, and I am just dying to tell them all to 
you, but of course you would not care to hear them. Do you know that 
I am going abroad in the Spring, the early Spring, and who knows, 
perhaps these familiar scenes may know me no more. So if you have 
not forgotten me entirely or forgotten to be fond of me — J have 
forgotten to forget. You had better come now and again. 

“ ‘O how fast the days are flitting.’ There are so few days left in 
my years, now it is Autumn and we are returning from exile, and then it 
is Spring and we are taking it up again, the interminable summer 
begins, there is no winter. Be human, be kind and come. You know it 
is Robert’s party. Perhaps you wall come for him.” 15 

He emerged from his laboratory and went to the party. For a 
time he tried to be more thoughtful. In a note to the “Palais Johnson” 
he mentioned Luka’s “great translations of Serbian poetry” and said 
he had sent three copies of his book to “three queens^— American 
queens, I might add.” He invited the Johnsons to a celebration at the 
Waldorf — “before I run out of money.” And he sent a frivolous note to 
“Mrs. Johnston, the Belle of the Ball,” of which, many years later, 
Agnes Johnson Holden was to write on the envelope: “Joke played on 

TO MARS > 115 

mother by Mr. Tesla, disguising handwriting and misspelling her 

With partying resumed it was for a while almost like old times. 
But soon the seduction of the laboratory claimed him again. Tesla for a 
long time had been exploring the area of mechanical vibrations — as for 
example with the platform on which he had allowed Mark Twain to 
experiment for fun and health. Almost at once he had begun to 
produce unexpected effects. 

One day in 1898 while testing a tiny electromechanical 
oscillator, he attached it with innocent intent to an iron pillar that went 
down through the center of his loft building at 46 East Houston Street, 
to the sandy floor of the basement 

Flipping on the switch, he settled into a straight-backed chair 
to watch and make notes of everything that happened. Such machines 
always fascinated him because, as the tempo built higher and higher, 
they would establish resonance with first one object in his workshop 
and then another. For example, a piece of equipment or furniture 
would suddenly begin to shimmy and dance. As he stepped up the 
frequency, it would halt but another more in tune would take up the 
frantic jig and, later on, yet another. 

What Tesla was unaware of on this occasion was that vibrations 
from the oscillator, traveling down the iron pillar with escalating force, 
were being carried through the substructure of Manhattan in all 
directions. (Normally earthquakes are more severe at a distance from 
their epicenter.) Buildings began to shake, windows shattered, and 
citizens poured onto the streets in the nearby Italian and Chinese 

At Police Headquarters on Mulberry Street, where Tesla was 
already regarded with suspicion, it soon became apparent that no 
other part of the city was having an earthquake. Two officers were 
dispatched posthaste to check on the mad inventor The latter; 
unaware of the shambles occurring all around his building, had just 
begun to sense an ominous vibration in the floor and walls. Knowing 
that he must quickly put a stop to it, he seized a sledgehammer and 
smashed the little oscillator in a single blow. 

With perfect timing the two policemen rushed through the 
door, allowing him to turn with a courteous nod. 

“Gentlemen, I am sorry” he said. “You are just a trifle too late 
to witness my experiment I found it necessary to stop it suddenly and 

TO MARS <— » 116 

unexpectedly and in an unusual way.... However, if you will come 
around this evening I will have another oscillator attached to this 
platform and each of you can stand on it You will, I am sure, find it a 
most interesting and pleasurable experience. Now you must leave, for 
I have many things to do. Good day gentlemen .” 16 

When reporters arrived, he blandly told them that he could 
destroy the Brooklyn Bridge in a matter of minutes if he felt like it 
Years later he told Allan L Benson of other experiments he 
had made with an oscillator no larger than an alarm clock. He 
described attaching the vibrator to a steel link two feet long and two 
inches thick. “For a long time nothing happened. . . . But at last . . . the 
great steel link began to tremble, increased its trembling until it dilated 
and contracted like a beating heart— and finally broke !” 17 

Sledgehammers could not have done it, he told the reporter; 
crowbars could not have done it, but a fusillade of taps, no one of 
which would have harmed a baby did it 

Pleased with this beginning, he put the little vibrator in his coat 
pocket and went out to hunt a half-built steel building. Finding one in 
the Wall Street district, ten stories high, with nothing up but the 
steelwork, he clamped the vibrator to one of the beams. 

“In a few minutes,” he told the reporter, “I could feel the beam 
trembling. Gradually the trembling increased in intensity and extended 
throughout the whole great mass of steel. Finally the structure began 
to creak and weave, and the steelworkers came to the ground panic- 
stricken, believing that there had been an earthquake. Rumors spread 
that the building was about to fall, and the police reserves were called 
out Before anything serious happened, I took off the vibrator, put it in 
my pocket, and went away But if I had kept on ten minutes more, I 
could have laid that building flat in the street And, with the same 
vibrator, I could drop Brooklyn Bridge in less than an hour.” 

Nor was this all. He boasted to Benson that he could split the 
Earth in the same way — “split it as a boy would split an apple— and 
forever end the career of man.” Earth’s vibrations, he went on, have a 
periodicity of about one hour and forty-nine minutes. “That is to say if 
I strike the earth this instant, a wave of contraction goes through it that 
will come back in one hour and forty-nine minutes in the form of 
expansion. As a matter of fact, the earth, like everything else, is in a 
constant state of vibration. It is constantly contracting and expanding. 

“Now, suppose that at the precise moment when it begins to 
contract, I explode a ton of dynamite. That accelerates the contraction 
and, in one hour and forty-nine minutes, there comes an equally 

TO MARS <— » 117 

accelerated wave of expansion. When the wave of expansion ebbs, 
suppose I explode another ton of dynamite, thus further increasing the 
wave of contraction. And, suppose this performance be repeated, time 
after time. Is there any doubt as to what would happen? There is no 
doubt in my mind. The earth would be split in two. For the first time in 
man’s history he has the knowledge with which he may interfere with 
cosmic processes!” 

When Benson asked how long it might take him to split the 
Earth, he answered modestly, “Months might be required; perhaps a 
year or two.” But in only a few weeks, he said, he could set tire Earth’s 
crust into such a state of vibration that it would rise and fall hundreds of 
feet, throwing rivers out of their beds, wrecking buildings, and 
practically destroying civilization. To the relief of ordinary citizens, Tesla 
later qualified his claim. The principle could not fail, he said, but it 
would be impossible to obtain perfect mechanical resonance of the 

As usual, Tesla’s comments to the press smack of exhibi- 
tionism. But also, as usual, his research was fundamentally sound. He 
had begun to establish a new science that he called “tele- 
geodynamics,” and it was to have important results. He saw that the 
same principles of vibration could be used to detect remote objects, 
such as submarines or ships. By using mechanical vibrations with the 
known constant of the Earth, he also hoped to leam how to locate ore 
deposits and oil fields. Modem subsurface exploratory techniques 
were thus presaged. 

Tesla agreed with a theory suggested by O’Neill that a battery 
of gyroscopes, mounted in a region of severe earthquake hazard, could 
transmit thrusts into the Earth at equally timed intervals, building up 
resonance in weak strata and releasing the plate pressure before 
serious quakes could occur. Today there is renewed interest by 
seismologists in such techniques. 

He described (and later tried to interest Westinghouse in 
developing) a machine embodying the art of telegeodynamics, with 
which he claimed to have sent six miles through the Earth mechanical 
waves “of much smaller amplitude than earthquake waves,” that lost 
little of their power with distance. They were not intended to transmit 
electrical energy but would enable messages to be carried anywhere in 
the world and received on a tiny pockef set Such waves could travel 
without interference from weather. When pressed by reporters to 
describe his apparatus, he would say only that it was a cylinder of finest 
steel — suspended in midair by a type of energy which was old in 

TO MARS <— » 118 

principle but which had been amplified by a secret principle — 
combined with a stationary part Powerful impulses impressed upon 
the floating cylinder would react on the stationary part and through it, 
on the Earth. 

Nothing was to be developed from this concept All his life, 
however, Tesla stuck by his guns as to the awesome potential erf 
mechanical resonance and he went on throwing the fear of God 
(through science) into impressionable New Yorkers. He could walk 
over to the Empire State Building, he told reporters, “and reduce it to a 
tangled mass of wreckage in a very short time." The mechanism would 
be a tiny oscillator, “an engine so small you could slip it in your 
pocket” Only 2.5 horsepower would be needed to drive the little 
vibrator. First, he said, the outer stone coating of the skyscraper would 
be hurled off. Then the whole vast skeleton of steel, the pride and 
glory of the Manhattan skyline, would collapse. At this point superman 
would presumably slip the tiny mechanism into his pocket and casually 
saunter away, perhaps reciting a line or two from Faust. Then his critics 
would rue the day. 

Whatever else Tesla may have been trying to Invite by making 
flamboyant statements such as these— the adulation of his followers, 
the wrath of other scientists, the consternation of officialdom — he was 
certainly not courting indifference. But then public indifference was the 
one thing he could least afford. The more so since fate seemed 
constantly to be thrusting him into direct competition with that master 
enchanter of the public imagination, the formidable old Wizard of 
Menlo Park. 


The New Year 1898 found Edison and Tesla in a neck-and-neck race 
to see who could boggle the minds of lesser mortals with the more 
outrageous claims. News of their doings had spread all the way to San 
Francisco, where it was reported that Edison now was “credited with 
announcing that he can photograph thought Nikola Tesla tells a New 
York paper that he has ‘harnessed the rays of the sun’ and will compel 
them to operate machinery and give light and heat This invention is 
still in the experimental stage, but he declares that there is not a 
possibility of its failure. He has discovered a method of producing 
steam from the rays of the sun. The steam runs a steam engine which 
generates electricity . . .” l 

Tesla’s solar engine was so simple in design, he said, that if it 
were fully described others might seize the idea, patent it, and control a 
blessing “which he intends shall be a free gift to the world.” He 
nevertheless permitted Chauncey McGovern of Pearson’s magazine to 
see his invention, which he claimed employed a single secret factor. 

In the center of a large room with a glass roof — his solar 
municipal powerhouse — reposed a huge cylinder of thick glass on a 
bed of asbestos and stone. Encircling it would be mirrors covered with 
asbestos coats to refract the rays of the sun into the glass cylinder. 2 The 
cylinder would always be kept full of water, which would have been 
treated by a secret chemical process, and which he said was the only 
complicated part of the system. 

All day long while the sun shone, with the chemical treatment 
making the water easily subject to heat, steam would be produced to 
run ordinary steam engines. These in turn would generate electricity 
for home and factory — enough, indeed, to supply a surplus, to be 
stored for cloudy days. 

The inventor said he fully expected to be ridiculed for having 
devised a system so simple. The cost of generating such energy would 
be minimal and he believed — contrary to the experience of subse- 
quent generations — that it should be easy to perfect batteries that 


ROBOTS <—> 120 

could store a whole year’s supply erf electricity against possible 
accidents in the generating machinery The system, he declared, would 
be a “great deal less artificial than for men to delve down into the 
bowels of fire earth at so much trouble and loss of life in order to get a 
few handfuls of coal to run an engine a short time and then to make 
spasmodic return trips for more .” Indeed, he hoped to see his solar 
engine replace not only coal, but wood and every other source of 
motive power; heat, and light 

Getting his inventions into working form was becoming an 
ever more serious problem for Tesla, laboring as he did almost alone 
and besieged with an incessant distracting flight of new ideas. So far as 
is known, his solar system was never used commercially And he was 
having the same trouble with his new vacuum-tube photography 

To Robert Johnson he wrote: “I feel confident I have a fight 
which for photography will be better than sunlight but I have no spare 
time to bring it to perfection. ...” He had recently taken a number of 
photos of the actor Joseph Jefferson to “vindicate” this mysterious 
new light (Five years earlier he had taken, with Jefferson as model, 
the first photographs ever made with phosphorescent light 3 ) Now the 
New York Times reported, “The art of photography will hereafter be 
independent of sunlight and vail be relieved of the inconvenience and 
discomfort of the flashlight if Nikola Tesla’s claims for his latest 
development of the vacuum tubes are well founded .” 4 The Electrical 
Review declared it the oddest and most unlooked-for development of 
the vacuum tube . 5 Photographs made with the tube were widely 
printed in newspapers. But thereafter little was heard about it 

Other kinds of practical inventions also intruded on his mind, 
warring with his preference for basic research. He received an urgent 
request from George Westinghouse that he provide a “simple and 
economical device for converting alternating to continuous (DC) 
currents. . . .” The Pittsburgh industrialist was interested in converting 
current for, among other things, running electric trains. Tesla replied at 
once that he had given a lot of thought to the problem and had “not 
one but a number of devices to put on your circuit and for all of them 
there is a great demand.” 

He was convinced, and so announced, that with properly built 
railroad tracks, trains running on AC/DC could safely travel up to two 
hundred miles per hour. As usual his claim gripped the popular 
imagination even as it griped his fellow inventors. Westinghouse leased 
one of Tesla’s converters. At around this time he also lent the inventor 

ROBOTS <— » 121 

$6,000 to underwrite other inventions in various stages of develop- 
ment Although Tesla had little money at this point he at least had no 

In May Prince Albert of the Belgians visited the United States 
and included Tesla’s laboratory on his tour. The experience “as- 
tonished” him, he said, adding that the inventor was among those 
Americans who made the strongest impression on him. 

Tesla, never one to underestimate the usefulness of royalty 
wired George Westinghouse and suggested he invite the Prince to be a 
guest in his Pittsburgh home. Westinghouse thought it an excellent 
idea and did so. Afterward Prince Albert visited the Westinghouse 
power plant at Niagara Falls, attended by his royal entourage.* 

Meanwhile, publisher William Randolph Hearst was adroitly 
steering the nation toward war with Spain; and a strange concurrence 
of events was shaping that would cause a Teslian moment of glory to 
be stolen by one of the inventor’s closest friends. 

Hearst’s man in Havana, Frederick Remington, wired his boss: 
“Everything is quiet There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I 
wish to return.” To which the great man replied: “Please remain. You 
furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.” 6 

Hearst saw real battles as a solution to the circulation war then 
raging between his New York Journal and Pulitzer’s New York World. 
His opening journalistic volleys were aimed at Spain for alleged cruelty 
to “the gentle Cuban people.” When the battleship Maine myste- 
riously exploded and sank in Havana harbor, he needed nothing more 
as an excuse to lash the country into a mood for vengeance. The U.S. 
Congress, yielding to the clamor of the press, by a narrow vote 
declared war upon Spain. 7 

Americans, fed by the jingoistic press with daily lies and 
contrived crises — which included warnings of imminent invasion by 
the Spanish navy of cities along the eastern seaboard — responded 
with righteous hysteria. 

Spain had not the least desire to take on the United States in a 
fight she could not possibly win. Nevertheless the American defense 
machine was rolled into action; harbors were fortified to repel the 
imagined invader and the fighting forces rallied to the flag. 

*He was not, however, the first Prince Albert to visit the Falk. In 1860, Bertie, Prince of 
Wales, later to become King Edward VII of England, went to Niagara as a young man 
and wished to be pushed across the Falk in a wheelbarrow on a tightrope by a 
French acrobat He was restrained 

ROBOTS » 122 

Chauncy Depew, former Secretary of State for New York, gave 
it as his opinion that America would never have declared war against 
Spain had the matter been left to President McKinley rather than to a 
Congress responsive to the people’s mood. And British ambassador 
James Bryce, horrified by such irrational preparations and by the lies 
he read in the newspapers, said he hoped the country’s attitude would 
not leave a permanent streak of bullying and jingoism in the national 
character. To this the New York Times retorted loftily that interceding 
on behalf of “oppressed womanhood” could scarcely be interpreted as 
bullying jingoism. This was a reference to Hearst’s, romantic crusade to 
charge to the rescue of a Cuban rebel known to his American readers 
only as Miss Cisneros. 

With patriotism pounding in the veins of every loyal son, 
gestures of a heroic dimension began to be made even by millionaires. 
Hearst, for example, sent a letter to the President of the United States: 
“Sir I beg to offer to the United States, as a gift, without any 
conditions whatsoever, my steam yacht Buccaneer.” In his same “no 
string^* letter, the publisher requested that he be given a position in 
command on his boat The Navy prudently accepted the craft but 
declined the skipper. JL Pierpont Morgan rather more thoughtfully 
offered to sell his yacht Corsair, to the government 

One spring evening in the midst of this national furor, Tesla and 
the Johnsons, accompanied by their daughter Agnes and handsome 
naval Lieutenant Richmond Pearson Hobson, dined at the Waldorf- 
Astoria It was the Johnson daughter’s debut into adult society and a 
last little fling for Lieutenant Hobson before he bade good-bye to Tesla 
in his laboratory and vanished on a secret Navy assignment Almost at 
once a reporter from the Philadelphia Press, as the card in his hatband 
announced, appeared at the laboratory door. 

“I hear you have a wireless device that will communicate with 
warships one hundred miles away, Dr. Tesla,” he said. 

“That is true,” said the inventor. “But I cannot give you the 
details. One reason I cannot tell you just what my machine is, is that if it 
can be used on our ships it will give us an advantage; and I shall be 
proud to have been of so much use to my country” 

“Then you consider yourself a good American?” probed the 

“I, a good American? I was a good American before I ever saw 
this country I had studied its government; I had met some of its 
people, I admired America. I was at heart an American before I 
thought of coming here to live.” 

As the reporter scribbled, Tesla expanded. 

ROBOTS <-> 123 

“What opportunities this country offers a man! Its people are a 
thousand years ahead of the people of any other nation of the world. 
They are big, broadminded, generous. I could not have accomplished 
in any other country what I have here.” 8 

He meant it It was all true. Forgotten were the times when he 
had been cheated by Edison and his managers and other business- 
men, when leading American scientists had derided his polyphase 
system, when they had laughed at his predictions. That was the way it 
went sometimes. But it was also true that he was hoping, after an 
impending exhibition at Madison Square Garden, to interest the 
government in his very latest wonders. 

“The American people are quick to hold out a helping hand 
and give recognition,” he continued. “Yes, I am as good an American 
as there is. I have nothing to sell the government of the U.S. If it needs 
my services in anyway it is welcome to them.” 9 

It was not on the whole, however, a comfortable time for a 
man of dark complexion and foreign accent to be an American. 
Hometown “spy-hunts” were just then a popular diversion. Police 
tended to look the other way if they saw a luckless Spanish-American 
citizen being beaten up in an alley. Sometimes the “spies?’ were taken 
in and grilled for possible deportation. 

Andrew Carnegie reflected a popular yearning when he 
predicted, “Ere long we shall have a solid English-speaking race, 
capable of preventing much of the evil of the world.” 

Teddy Roosevelt impetuously resigned as assistant secretary of 
the Navy and began recruiting Rough Riders from among the mem- 
bership list of the Knickerbocker Club. Colonel John Jacob Astor 
mustered an artillery battery Cowboys and Sioux Indians rallied to the 
flag. Meanwhile, riots were reported in Spain and starvation in Cuba. 
In the end, six times as many U.S. troops would die in Cuba of cholera 
and typhoid as of Spanish bullets. 

The day for which Tesla the inventor had been working and 
waiting arrived in the midst of martial distractions. The first Electrical 
Exhibition at Madison Square Garden was late in opening, the 
railroads having been preempted for the movement of soldiers and 
military supplies and some of the exhibits therefore having failed to 
arrive on time. Overshadowed by larger events, the show was almost 
squeezed out of the newspapers. And to cap it all, the weather was 
rainy. Even so, fifteen thousand persons showed up. 

The demonstration of the world’s first radio-controllea robot 
boat by Tesla failed to make the splash it deserved, not only because it 
was overshadowed by the war, but because he made the mistake of 


presenting more than the public could absorb at once. The remarkable 
stage of development to which he had carried wireless, the forerunner 
of modem radio, would have been quite enough; but to introduce 
automation simultaneously, as he did, was probably too great a leap. 
On that day in 1898 when he demonstrated the common ancestor of 
modem guided weapons and vehicles, of automated industry, and of 
robotry, he was introducing an idea for which the world would not be 
ready for many years. 

His first two radio-controlled devices were boats, and one was 
submersible by remote control. On this initial occasion he showed only 
the submersible. Commander E. J. Quinby (USN Ret) who, during 
World War II was in charge of electronic weapons research for the 
Navy at Key West, Rorida, has written of visiting Tesla’s historic exhibit 
when he was a child: “I was there with my father, quite fascinated, but 
also quite unaware that I was witnessing the dawn of space navigation 
to be realized later, in the following century. Tesla was not using Morse 
code. He was not transmitting messages in any known language. 
Nevertheless, he was employing his own coded pulses via Hertzian 
waves to directly control this pioneer unmanned craft. He encoded the 
visitor^ commands, and the vessel’s receiver decoded them automat- 
ically into actuating operations. 10 

The full potential of the invention was concealed, in part 
because Tesla hoped the Navy would seriously consider using it in the 

“One of the features not revealed,” science writer Kenneth M. 
Swezey later disclosed, “was a system to prevent interference by 
means of coordinated tuning devices responsive only to a combination 
of several radio waves of completely different frequencies. Another was 
a loop antenna which could be completely enclosed by the copper hull 
of the vessel; the antenna would thus be invisible and the vessel could 
operate completely submerged.” 11 

The inventor did not disclose more than his fundamental idea 
in his basic patent No. 613,809 — a means he had learned to use to 
protect his discoveries. 

What his patents included, but the Madison Square Garden 
viewers did not see, were specifications for a torpedo boat without a 
crew, including a motor with a storage battery to drive the propeller, 
smaller motors and batteries to operate the steering gear, and still 
others to feed electric signal lights and to raise or lower the boat in the 
water. 12 Six 14-foot torpedoes were to be placed vertically in two rows 
so that when one was discharged another would fall into place. Tesla 

ROBOTS <— * 125 

had advised the Navy that he thought such a boat could be built for 
around $50,000. 

He claimed that a few such craft “could attack and destroy a 
whole armada — destroy it utterly in an hour, and the enemy never 
have a sight of their antagonists or know what power destroyed them.” 

When word of this got out he received from Mark Twain, then 
in Austria, a letter in which the humorist wrote: “Have you Austrian 
and English patents on that destructive terror which you have been 
inventing? and if so, won’t you set a price upon them and concession 
me to sell them? I know Cabinet ministers of both countries — and of 
Germany too; likewise, William II. 

“I shall be in Europe a year yet. 

“Here in the hotel the other night when some interested men 
were discussing means to persuade the nations to join with the Czar 
and disarm, I advised them to seek something more . . . than disarma- 
ment by perishable paper.... Invite the great inventors to contrive 
something against which fleets and armies would be helpless, and thus 
make war thenceforth impossible. I did not suspect that you were 
already attending to that, and getting ready to introduce into the earth 
permanent peace and disarmament in a practical and mandatory way 

“I know you are a very busy man but will you steal time to 
drop me a line?” 13 

But the concept was too advanced and those in charge of 
American defense declared it an impossible dream. Even officials who 
had observed the midget naval maneuvers in the tank proclaimed it a 
mere “laboratory experiment” that could never be extended to actual 
battle conditions. 

Tesla’s Madison Square Garden demonstration undoubtedly 
was the most prophetic event at the show, but other inventors also 
provided displays to bemuse the public. Marconi, without acknowledg- 
ment, used a Tesla oscillator to demonstrate how mines could be 
blown up by firing a “Cuban dynamite gun” with Marconi’s Wireless 
Telegraphy And Edison demonstrated what would become his folly, 
the Magnetic Ore Separator. 

Pupin, president of the New York Electrical Society, Edison, 
and Marconi, a powerful and brainy trio, were now joined by their faith 
in the financial possibilities of commercial wireless and by three 
ambitions as great as Tesla’s own. One other thing they shared was a 
growing resentment of Tesla’s success. 

Tesla and Johnson followed the news of wartime maneuvers 
and naval encounters from day to day in hope of learning something of 


the mysterious mission of their friend Hobson. Nothing had been 
heard directly from him since his abrupt departure in early May 

In the first part of June Spanish Admiral Cervera, whose 
whereabouts had been the subject of wild speculation in the American 
press, slipped his vessels into Santiago harbor for coal. An American 
fleet of superior size moved in. And on the flagship New York, 
unknown to his family and friends at home, was Lieutenant Hobson. 
He had been thoroughly trained in gunnery and in the handling of 

A desperate scheme, almost a suicide mission, was hatched to 
bottle up Cervera’s fleet The idea was to sink a ship across the 
narrowest part of the harbor mouth. The old collier Merrimac was 
chosen and fitted with torpedoes to blow her own hull out Lieutenant 
Hobson, at twenty-eight, was chosen to head the mission with a crew 
of six volunteers. 

At 1:30 a.m. on a night of shadowed moonlight the lieutenant 
and his crew buckled on cork lifebelts over long underdrawers. Armed 
only with pistols, the; moved the old coaling boat slowly toward the 
harbor mouth. 

Hobson reports in a book he later wrote that he said to his 
gunner’s mate, “Charette, my lad, we’re going to make it tonight 
There is no power on earth that can keep us out of the channel.” 

At the moment of that ill-timed prediction, a Spanish search- 
light picked them out and the Spanish opened fire. A shell hit their 
pilot house. Hobson tried to touch off the torpedoes. Only two of them 
responded, the others having been defectively wired. In short order 
Spanish fire reduced the Merrimac to a sinking wreck— but in a 
position that failed to block the narrows. 

Hobson and his men in their early-day frogmen suits, leaped 
into the sea and swam to a catamaran that had floated from their deck. 
But just as they were clambering aboard, a Spanish launch manned by 
armed soldiers pulled alongside. 

Hobson records that as he stared up into their guns he 
thought, “Despicable cowards! Do they mean to shoot us down in cold 
blood? If they do, a brave nation will hear of this and call for an 

It came as something of an anticlimax, therefore, when 
Admiral Cervera, who was himself on the launch, took tire Americans 
to a Spanish fortress where he treated them with great courtesy and 
soon exchanged them for Spanish prisoners. 

ROBOTS <— > 127 

When this feat of dening-do hit American newspapers, they 
carried little else for days. Hobson was lionized almost to the same 
degree that Charles Lindbergh would be much later, after flying the 
Atlantic. Tesla was filled with pride for his friend and delighted when 
Hobson was sent home for a round of public appearances across the 
country to rally greater enthusiasm for the war. Tesla and Johnson 
took the young officer to Delmonico’s for a promised celebration and 
referred to him frequently as “the hero.” 

Later it greatly amused the inventor to read of how women 
swarmed over Hobson wherever he went In Chicago the hero spotted 
two female cousins he knew and kissed them, which touched off the 
crowd, causing every woman to demand her due. In Denver he was 
mobbed again and, according to the press, had to kiss five hundred 
more. To cap this saccharine frenzy a candy manufacturer announced 
that he was bringing out a caramel to be called a “Hobson’s Kiss.” 
Tesla was sharply reminded of reality by his bookkeeper, 
George Scherff, who pointed to the fact that money was running out 
and that his inventions were not being completed. There were 
potentially useful items that people needed, he said. For example, 
doctors and the ailing kept asking for the Tesla Fad— a heat-treating 
device he had worked on but not perfected for the market 

But where was he to find toe time to develop such things? 
He enjoyed a rare flurry of socializing with toe Johnsons in toe 
winter of 1898 and turned down toe usual number of invitations. 

On November 3, he wrote to “Dear Kate” saying he was glad 
she had accepted his invitation for Saturday and adding: “Though a 
day of plebeians — drummers, grocerymen, Jews,* and other social 
trilobites, toe prospect is nevertheless delightful.” 14 

In his invitation he added that a month’s income would go on 
their dinner, but even so, “do not fear it will be extravagant, for just 
now there is a temporary ebb in my private fortune . . . but soon I am 
to be a multimillionaire and then good-bye to my friends on Lexington 

Shortly afterward, invited to dinner by Katharine and asked to 
suggest a partner; he predictably named Marguerite. “If she would 
come,” he said, “I know I would.” 

Tesla’s anti-Semitism appeared sporadic and was not unusual among gentiles of his 
time. Once he called one erf his secretaries to him and hissed as if it were a revealed 
truth, “Miss! Never trust a Jew!” 

ROBOTS <— » 128 

On December 3, Hobson arrived back in Manhattan, and 
another celebration was planned Tesla wrote to Katharine saying, “I 
am glad.... Now we can have that dinner” He suggested that 
“afterwards we could adjourn to the laboratory,” and mentioned a 
certain lady “who is crazy to see Hobson.” Describing her as a great 
celebrity yet keeping her identity as a surprise, he said he knew how 
“the Filipovs hunger after such people.” And he added, “I do not want 
to say anything disparaging of a lady but for my taste she is simply — 
well, I think you will look more splendid than ever. I warn you she is 
apt to come in a scarlet decollete but is a great artist and she must be 
permitted the latitude... I will sandwich her between Luka and 
Hobson and wedge you between the hero and myself . . .” 

Tesla’s claims for his first robot vehicles soon came under 
attack by fellow scientists. Thus “An Inquiry About Tesla’s Electrically 
Controlled Vessel,” by N. G. Worth, appeared in the Electrical Review, 
the author expressing his opinion that the method of control could be 
counter-influenced by the enemy 15 

Tesla wrote to Johnson at Century urging him to make no 
response on his behalf: 

“I know that you are a noble fellow and devoted friend and, 
noting your indignation at these uncalled-for attacks, I am afraid that 
you might give it expression. I beg you not to do it under any 
condition, as you would offend me. Let my ‘friend^ do their worst, I 
like it better so. Let them spring on scientific societies worthless 
schemes, oppose a cause which is deserving, throw sand into the eyes 
of those who might see — they will reap their reward in time 

“I could easily refute the statements contained therein, merely 
by referring to expressions of such men as Lord Kelvin, Sir William 
Crookes, Lord Rayleigh, Roentgen and others, which bear testimony 
of the high esteem and appreciation of my labors by these men. But I 
disdain to do so, because the attack was too undignified to deserve 
notice....” 16 

Under the heading, “Science and Sensationalism,” the journal 
Public Opinion also criticized his work and methods. 17 

Much later; in his brief autobiography Tesla disclosed that he 
had begun active work on building remotely controlled devices in 
1893, although the concept had occurred to him earlier. During the 
next two or three years he had built several mechanisms to be actuated 
from a distance and showed them to laboratory visitors, but the 
destruction of the laboratory by fire had interrupted these activities. 

ROBOTS <— > 129 

“In 1896,” he wrote, “...I designed a complete machine 
capable of a multitude of operations, but the consummation of my 
labors was delayed until 1897. . . . When first shown in the beginning of 
1898, it created a sensation such as no other invention of mine has 
ever produced” 

His basic patent was obtained in November; only after the 
examiner in chief had come to New York and witnessed the perform- 
ance of his vessel, for he had claimed it seemed unbelievable. 

“I remember that when later I called on an official in Wash- 
ington, with a view of offering the invention to the Government,” Tesla 
wrote, “he burst out in laughter upon my telling him what 1 had 
accomplished. Nobody thought then that there was the faintest 
prospect of perfecting such a device.”" 

These first robots, he wrote in 1919, he had originally consid- 
ered crude steps in the evolution of the art of Telautomatics. As he had 
conceived it “The next logical improvement was its application to 
automatic mechanisms beyond the limits of vision and at a great 
distance from the center of control, and I have ever since advocated 
their employment as instruments of warfare in preference to guns, . . . 
In an imperfect manner it is practicable, with the existing wireless 
plants, to launch an aeroplane, have it follow a certain approximate 
course, and perform some operation at a distance of many hundreds 
of miles.” 19 

He recalled that as a student in college he had conceived of a 
flying machine quite unlike the present ones. 

“The underlying principle was sound but could not be carried 
into practice,” he wrote, “for want of a prime-mover of sufficiently 
great activity In recent years I have successfully solved this problem 
and am now planning aerial machines devoid of sustaining planes, 
ailerons, propellers, and other external attachments, which will be 
capable of immense speeds and are very likely to furnish powerful 
arguments for peace in the near future.” 20 

The futuristic aircraft that he conceived of and illustrated was to 
be guided either mechanically or by wireless energy. 

“By installing proper plants it unit be practicable to project a 
missile of this kind into the air and drop it almost on the very spot 
designated, which may be thousands of miles away. But we are not 
going to stop at this. Telautomata will be ultimately produced, capable 
of acting as if possessed of their own intelligence, and their advent will 
create a revolution.” 21 

As early as 1898 he had also proposed to manufacturers the 

ROBOTS <-» 130 

production of an automated car which, “left to itself, would perform a 
great variety of operations involving something akin to judgment But 
my proposal was deemed chimerical at that time and nothing came 
from it” 

Conceiving of robots as having many uses besides war, he 
believed their greatest role would lie in peaceful service to humanity. 
He later described his 1890’s activity to Professor B. F. Meissner of 
Purdue University: “I treated the whole field broadly, not limiting 
myself to mechanisms controlled from distance but to machines 
possessed of their own intelligence. Since that time I had advanced 
greatly in the evolution of the invention and think that the time is not 
distant when I shall show an automaton which, left to itself, will act as 
though possessed of reason and without any wilful control from the 
outside. Whatever be the practical possibilities of such an achievement, 
it will mark the beginning of a new epoch in mechanics.” 

He added: “I would call your attention to the fact that while my 
specification, above mentioned, shows the automatic mechanism as 
controlled through a simple tuned circuit, I have used individualized 
control; that is, one based on the co-operation of several circuits of 
different periods of vibration, a principle which I had already de- 
veloped at that time and which was subsequently described in my 
patents 723,188 and 723,189* of March, 1903. The machine was in 
this form when I made demonstrations with it in 1898 before the Chief 
Examiner (of Patents) Seeley, prior to the grant of my basic patent on 
Method of and Apparatus for Controlling Mechanisms at a Distance.” 22 

It was this that Swezey alluded to in his comments on 
“coordinated tuning devices responsive only to a combination of 
several radio waves of completely different frequencies.” 

Inventors of modem computer technology in the last half of 
the twentieth century repeatedly have been surprised, when seeking 
patents, to encounter Tesla’s basic ones, already on file. Leland 
Anderson, for example, states that Tesla’s priority was first pointed out 
to him years ago by a patent attorney for a major computer firm with 
which he was associated in a research and development capacity 
Anderson writes, “I am puzzled by the reluctance of some in the 
computer technology field to acknowledge Tesla’s priority in this 
regard in contrast to the adulation given to Messrs. Brattain, Bardeen, 
and Shockley for the invention of the transistor which made electronic 
computers a practical reality” 23 

"Tesla’s letter to Meissner erroneously listed patent 723,189, the correct number being 
725,605, which was issued April 14, 1903 

ROBOTS <— » 131 

Their patents and the Tesla patents were both directed at 
applications in the communications field, he notes. Both patents are 
combined to produce the physical embodiment of a solid-state AND 
gate. Computer systems contain thousands of logic decision elements 
called ANDS and ORS. All operations performed by a computer are 
achieved through a system design utilizing these logic elements. 

“Tesla’s 1903 patents 723,188 and 725,605,” says Anderson, 
“contain the basic principles of the logical AND circuit element The 
simultaneous occurrence of two or more prescribed signals at the input 
to the device element produced an output from the device element” 

Although Tesla’s patents used AC signals and today’s com- 
puters use pulsed DC, the basic principle of a prescribed combination 
of signals producing an output by virtue of their conjoint action is 

“Thus,” declares Anderson, “the subject early Tesla patents, 
which were designed to achieve interference protection from outside 
influences in the command of radio-controlled weapons, have proved 
to be an obstacle for anyone attempting to obtain a basic logical AND 
circuit element patent in this era of modem computer technology.” 24 

The Nobel Prize was awarded to John Bardeen, Walter H. 
Brattain, and William B. Shockley in 1956 for their work on develop- 
ing the transistor, which replaced electronic tubes in many applica- 
tions. Yet Tesla has only recently been so much as recognized for 
having pioneered the field. 

One of the earliest acknowledgments of the debt owed Tesla in 
the new technology of remotely piloted vehicles (now universally 
known in the military as RPVs) appeared in a 1944 Times editorial: 

“The general principle of controlling apparatus by radio goes 
back to the early days of what was once called ‘wireless.’ At the first 
electrical exposition held in this city over forty years ago Nikola Tesla 
maneuvered and blew up a model submarine in a tank by radio. There 
soon followed a score of German, American, English, and French 
inventors who showed how engine-driven vehicles, torpedoes and 
ships could be steered by radio waves with never a man on 
board. . . .’ ,25 

Yet Tesla, having done so much to introduce the era of 
automation, felt that he had no time just then to pursue a line of 
development for which the world was still manifestly unready His 
sights were fixed on bigger game — if that were possible. His laboratory 
in New York was no longer a safe place for his experiments; or, rather; 
his experiments had become too dangerous for a crowded city 

ROBOTS <— > 132 

To Leonard Curtis, a patent attorney who had loyally protected 
his and Westinghouse’s rights during the War of the Currents, he wrote: 
“My coils ate producing 4,000,000 volts — sparks jumping from walls 
to ceilings are a fire hazard. This is a secret test I must have electrical 
power, water and my own laboratory. I will need a good carpenter who 
will follow instructions. I am being financed for this by Astor, and also 
Crawford and Simpson. My work will be done late at night when the 
power load will be least” 26 

Curtis, who was associated with tire Colorado Springs Electric 
Company, immediately set to work on the inventor’s problem. His 
solution would have far-reaching consequences. 

Hurler of Lightning 

Leonard Curtins reply from Colorado Springs could not have brought 
better news: “All things arranged, land will be free. You will live at the 
Alta Vista Hotel. I have interest in the City Power Plant so electricity is 
free to you.” 

Tesla, overjoyed, threw himself into detailed preparations, 
especially the ordering of machinery that would have to be shipped. 
Meanwhile, Scherff and his shop assistant, Kolman Czito, were called 
upon to labor almost around the clock for a major move of laboratory 

Of paramount importance was the reorganizing of his finances. 
The $40,000 paid to him by Adams for stock in the Nikola Tesla 
Company had long since been spent Ten thousand dollars given to 
him by John Hays Hammond, Sr., the famous mining engineer, had 
gone to underwrite his wireless and robot work for the Electrical 
Exhibition. But the drygoods firm of Simpson and Crawford lent 
another $10,000 to him for ongoing research, and Col. John Jacob 
Astor, owner of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, contributed $30,000 
toward the building of the new research station in Colorado Springs. 1 

Once established in Colorado, Tesla intended to devote all his 
energies toward an immediate dual goal: to develop a worldwide 
wireless system well ahead of the ambitious Marconi, and to leam how 
to send energy abundantly and cheaply without wires to the ends of 
the Earth. No body of knowledge, except that which he had already 
developed, existed to guide him. 

Yet there remained a little time to socialize with his friends, a 
little time to rekindle jealousy in the adoring Katharine. Marguerite was 
the pawn in this game, if it was a game. 

“Agnes will come by all means,” he wrote to Kate, as if she 
were his social secretary “And — wouldn’t you invite Miss Merington? 
She is such a wonderfully clever woman. . . . Really I would like to have 
her with us. . . ” 2 

On the twenty-fifth of March he begged off a date with Luka, 
“having already accepted an important engagement with an English 



millionaire.” But he described his joy at having at last moved into the 
fashionable Waldorf-Astoria Hotel after ten years at the “abominable 
place” that appeared to pride itself more on the quality of being 
fireproof than on the honor of having a distinguished inventor in 
residence. 3 

Colonel Astor, at least, felt honored to have him as a guest 
And Tesla was instantly at home in his smart new surroundings, where 
all the important men of Wall Street gathered in the afternoon. 

In the flurry before departure he found time to initiate an effort 
to “get permission from the French government for transmitting 
energy and establishing communication with France without wires, in 
view of the coming Exposition...” His reason for this was to be 
disclosed on his arrival in Colorado. 

Tesla departed New York on May 11, 1899, traveling by train 
and making a stopover in Chicago to demonstrate again his radio- 
controlled boat George Scherff was left behind to run the New York 
laboratory with precise and lengthy instructions for more equipment 
to be built bought, and shipped. Of course Tesla left him with neither 
adequate money nor a power of attorney to cover the day-to-day 
expenses. As the inventor saw the matter, when he considered it at all, 
his staff would soon share in his own wealth and fame. 

Arriving at Colorado Springs on May 18, he was taken directly 
to the Alta Vista Hotel. After examining the creaky elevator, he chose 
room No. 207 (divisible by three and only one flight up), and left 
instructions for the maid to deliver eighteen clean towels daily. He said 
he preferred to do his own dusting. 

The land made available to him was about a mile east of 
Colorado Springs, in the shadow of Pike’s Peak. Its main use was 
grazing pasture for the town’s dairy herd. His closest neighbor was to 
be the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, a choice reflecting 
some discretion. The elevation was 6,000 feet above sea level; the air 
clear, dry and crackling with static electricity 

To reporters who interviewed him on his arrival, he disclosed 
that he planned to send a wireless message from Pike’s Peak to Paris in 
time for the Paris Exposition of 1900. The journalists asked whether he 
meant to send messages from peak to peak. He replied haughtily that 
he had not come to Colorado to engage in stunts. 

He had filed in the preceding decade a whole series of patents 
related to the wireless transmission of power and messages, beginning 
with the most basic equipment for the production of high frequencies 


and high voltages.* He had already built a coil that produced 4 million 
volts, and now he wanted to go much higher in order to power a 
device capable of making transmissions on a global scale. The tests 
were to be made in great secrecy— or, at any rate, as much secrecy as 
was possible in a small community titillated by the arrival of a famous 
inventor with mountains of mysterious equipment 

Tesla was directed to a local carpenter named Joseph Dozier, 
to whom he outlined plans for the experimental station, and the 
construction began immediately. He then sent the first of an almost 
continuous stream of wires and letters to Scherff in New York asking 
that Fritz Lowenstein, his young engineering assistant be sent west 
“He must be here to oversee construction and locate equipment” 

During the building of the experiment station the inventor 
commuted to and from the site each day by buckboard, his long legs 
sprawled over the sides— not so much from lack of space as in 
readiness to abandon ship. Tesla trusted horses no more than he did 
electric elevators. (In time, the horses of Colorado Springs would have 
equal reason not to trust Tesla, for when he got his powerful 
magnifying transmitter operating, it would electrify the Earth in all 
directions, malting runaways of the gentlest nags.) 

A fence surrounded the weird structure that began to rise from 
the prairie floor, and this barrier bristled with warnings: “KEEP OUT — 
GREAT DANGER.” When the station was completed an even more 
ominous quotation from Dante’s Inferno was posted at the door 
“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” It did not take long for the 
word to spread that the apparatus being built by Mr. Tesla was capable 
of killing a hundred persons in a single flash of lightning. 

The experiment station, which had started out looking like a 
large square bam, ended up resembling a ship with a towering mast 
Extruding from an open section of the roof was a tower that reached 
eighty feet above the ground. From this metal mast soared another 122 

*In a heterogeneous basic group: No. 454,622 (first patent of the coil named after 
Tesla), 462,418, 464,667, 512,340, 514,167, 514,168, 567,818, 568,176, 568,178, 
568,179, 568,180, 577,670, 583,953, 593,138, 609,245, 609,246, 609,247, 
609,248, 609,249, 609,251, 611,719, and 613,735, plus the two relating to wireless 
transmission of power and messages, 645,576 and 649,621, all filed prior to his 
Colorado experiments. His work in Colorado provided the foundation for several 
important patents: No. 685,953, 685,954, 685,955 and 685,956 referring to 
receivers; and for most of them he applied while in Colorado. Shortly after returning 
to New York he filed another group (see footnote p. 165). 


feet Into the air. Poised upon its tip was a copper ball three feet in 

Machinery was moved in and assembled as quickly as it 
arrived on the construction scene. Coils or high-frequency transfor- 
mers in many shapes and sizes were built From New York came the 
specially built two-turn primary circuit that he had had in his laboratory 
on Houston Street With its associated circuit interrupters, it would 
drive his magnifying transmitter. 

This transmitter, which he developed in Colorado, he would 
later claim as his greatest invention. Indeed, it is the Tesla invention 
that continues to fascinate many of his modem followers the most 
Whenever and wherever in recent years phenomena have been 
detected, resulting from powerful radio signals pulsed at very low 
frequencies, journalists speak knowingly of the Tesla effect The 
Russians, it has been claimed, are using a giant Tesla magnifying 
transmitter to modify the world’s weather, creating extremes of ice and 
drought It is said to cause periodic disruption of radio communications 
in Canada and the United States with attendant brain-wave inter- 
ference and vague symptoms of physical distress, not to mention sonic 
booms and almost anything else not otherwise explicable. Indeed, it 
was this same fabulous invention that Robert Golka in recent years 
tried to replicate, with considerable success, at Wendover, Utah, for the 
study of ball lightning, in conjunction with research in nuclear fusion. 

But what exactly was it? Tesla was asked to describe it for the 
Electrical Experimenter in a way that young readers could understand 
His explanation (which must have taxed his readers) is tantalizingly 
vague. “Well, then, in the first place,” he wrote, “it is a resonant 
transformer with a secondary in which the parts, charged to a high 
potential, are of considerable area and arranged in space along ideal 
enveloping surfaces of very large radii of curvature, and at proper 
distances from one another thereby insuring a small electric surface 
density everywhere so that no leak can occur even if the conductor is 
bare. It is suitable for any frequency from a few to many thousands of 
cycles per second, and can be used in the production of currents of 
tremendous volume and moderate pressure, or of smaller amperage 
and immense electro-motive force. The maximum electric tension is 
merely dependent on the curvature of the surfaces on which the 
charged elements are situated and the area of the latter.” 4 

One hundred million volts, he declared, were perfectly prac- 
ticable. Such a circuit could be excited with impulses of any kind, even 


of low frequency, and would yield sinusoidal and continuous oscilla 
tions like those of an alternator. 

“Taken in the narrowest significance of the term, however,” 
Tesla wrote, “it is a resonant transformer which, besides possessing 
these qualities, is accurately proportioned to fit the globe and its 
electrical constants and properties, by virtue of which design it 
becomes highly efficient and effective in the wireless transmission of 
energy. Distance is then absolutely eliminated, there being no diminu- 
tion in the intensify of the transmitted impulses. It is even possible to 
make the actions increase with the distance from the plant according 
to an exact mathematical law.” 5 

Once this powerful equipment was built and the inventor 
began testing he was able to emulate the electrical fireworks of even 
the wildest mountain storms. When the transmitter was operating, 
lightning arresters in a twelve-mile radius from his station were bridged 
with continuous fiery arcs, stronger and more persistent than those 
produced by natural lightning. 

For the first time he kept a careful daily diary in which he 
recorded every aspect of his research. And because visual effects were 
useful as well as thrilling, he devoted many hours to photographic 

The equipment Tesla was perfecting would, he hoped, one 
day be adaptable for commerdal use. But first, thousands of observa- 
tions and delicate adjustments had to be made. He no longer trusted 
his legendary memory to store such a volume of information. His daily 
notes referred constantly to experiments that had foiled to turn out as 
expected, and he would ask himself why. This process was at sharp 
variance with the one he claimed to have used throughout his earlier 
life. Now middle-aged, he may have felt his memory waning slightly 
Certainly he felt driven by the pressures of his self-imposed deadline. 

In his Colorado journal his lifelong fascination with visual 
phenomena is underscored. The flashing lights that he had always 
experienced on the screen of his mind were dramatically externalized, 
and his descriptions, among the mass of mathematical formulas, are 
detailed, loving, almost erotic in their lingering portrayal of the colors 
and grandeur of his Colorado electrical storms. 6 

Nights when experiments were being made with the magnify- 
ing transmitter the prairie sky exploded with sound and color. Even the 
earth seemed alive and the crash of thunder from the spark gap could 
be heard for miles. Butterflies were sucked into the vortex of the 


transmitter coil, which was fifty-two feet in diameter. Awed spectators 
at some distance from the station told of seeing tiny sparks flying 
between grains of sand and between their heels and the ground when 
they walked. They said that at three hundred feet away, arcs an inch 
long could be drawn from grounded metal objects. 7 Horses grazing or 
trotting peacefully half a mile away would suddenly go berserk, feeling 
shocks through their metal shoes. 

The inventor and his assistants, working nightly amidst 
thunder and lightning, stuffed cotton in their ears and wore thick cork 
or rubber soles on their shoes. Even so, Tesla described a frequent 
bursting sensation in the ears, something almost as positive as touch, 
and feared damage to their eardmms. Often the pain and buzzing they 
felt continued for hours after a test 

Hertz’s research of 1888, which confirmed Maxwell’s dynamic 
theory of the electromagnetic field, had convinced scientists that 
electromagnetic waves propagated in straight lines, like light waves. 
Therefore it was generally believed that radio transmission would be 
limited by the curvature of the Earth. Tesla, as we know, believed not 
only that the globe was a good conductor but that the “upper strata of 
the air are conducting” and “that air strata at very moderate altitudes, 
which are easily accessible, offer, to all experimental evidence, a 
perfect conducting path.” 

Until recent years this theory of propagation of radio waves 
was ignored. In the 1950’s, however, a number of scientists working on 
the propagation of very low (3 to 30 kHz) and extremely low (1 to 
3000 Hz) electromagnetic waves, confirmed Tesla’s principles insofar 
as they apply to low-frequency transmissions. As the world authority 
on electromagnetic wave theory. Dr. James R Wait, has observed, 
Tesla’s experiments at Colorado Springs “predate all other electromag- 
netic research in Colorado ... [and] his early experiments have an 
intriguing similarity with later developments in ELF (extra-low fre- 
quency) communications.” 8 In fact, the Tesla magnifying transmitter 
was the first in the world powerful enough to create ELF resonance in 
the earth-ionosphere wave guide. 

He was equally prescient in a prediction made at this time that 
the Earth resonates at 6, 18, and 30 Hz. He later tried to verify this with 
equipment he built on Long Island, but not until the 1960’s would the 
experiments that he had wanted to carry out be made by others. It was 
then found that Tesla had been remarkably close to the mark: The 
Earth resonates at 8, 14, and 20 Hz. 

Since his wireless power-transmission concept involved Earth 


resonance, the closer he could bring his operational frequency to that 
of the Earth the better it would be for producing very large movements 
of power in his system. But low frequencies presented a difficult 
problem insofar as the length of his secondary winding was concerned. 
For example, for his magnifying transmitter, which operated at 50 kHz, 
the winding length was approximately 0.9 miles. At 500 Hz, the length 
would have had to be ninety miles. 

Progress reports and requests for shipments were scorching the 
telegraph wires between Tesla and Scherff. Regular freight was too 
slow for the inventor, so he ordered Scherff to use expensive railway 
express. The presence of Kolman Cato was commanded. Tesla wrote 
Scherff, advising him that Cato’s salary of $15 per week was to be paid 
to his wife. Soon he was able to report, “Czito has just arrived and I 
was glad to see a familiar face again. He looks a little too fat for the 
work I expect of him.” 

There was also discussion by telegraph about the two hundred 
bottles Tesla had ordered and about the eight-foot balloons that, 
according to Scherff Mr. Myers feared “would not rise at the altitude 
where you are if it should be windy” 9 The balloons were to hoist 
stationary antennae into the high thin air. Eventually they were 
designed by a professional at $50 each and were to be filled only two- 
thirds full (probably with hydrogen) to avoid breakage at a great height 

Scherff, knowing of his hunger for news, kept him advised of 
every detail of the progress at home and especially informed him of the 
movements of Colonel Astor, his major financial backer He also 
reported on the activities of Marconi and on matters related to Tesla’s 
European patents. 

Busy as both men were, they found time to exchange the 
slightest tidbits of gossip or instruction. “Mr. L.,” said Scherffj “has 
been coming to the shop intoxicated and malting many errors in his 
drilling.” And Tesla admonished, “Tell Mr Uhlman not to write yours 
truly, but sincerely ; and signed his own letter to Scherff, “Yours 
sincerely.” He added an anxious P.S.: “Has my friend JJA [Astor] 

To Scherff he enlarged on the problems of security and 
promised him reflected glory: “Do everything you can intelligently 
keeping the interest of my efforts in view and be particularly careful to 
any press representatives. I do not want you to say anything except 
what 1 state here. I think when I come back I shall have something to 
say . . . You must all be as part of myself, then I shall pull you with me 
to success.” 10 


On August 16 he wrote to “My dear Luka” to thank him for his 
poem, “Dewey at Manila,” which was “simply great,” and added: “1 
wish you could see the snowdrops and icebergs of Colorado Springs! I 
mean those that float in the air. They are sublime, next to your poems, 
Luka, the finest things on Earth! Kind regards to all from your Nikola.” 

But a little later he again wrote Johnson on a less ecstatic note. 
“The wireless torpedo got on the scene just a trifle too late and Dewey 
slipped into the gallery of immortal conqueror— but it was a close 
shave! Luka, I see every day that we are both too far ahead of our time! 
My system of wireless telegraph is buried in the transactions of a 
scientific society, and your great poem on the heroes of Manila did not 
even as much as save Montojo, and just as my enemies maintain that I 
am merely writing ideas of others, so yours will say that it is because of 
your poem that Montojo was condemned! 

“But we shall continue in our noble efforts, my friend, not 
minding the bad and foolish world, and sometime ... I shall be 
explaining the principles of my intelligent machine (which will have 
done away with guns and battleships) to Archimedes, and you will 
read your great poems to Homer. . . .”" 

Scherff wrote: “The New York Herald continues to boom 
Marconi. . . .” 

For all his worries about the project, Tesla was finding Colo- 
rado’s weather and atmosphere exhilarating. His vision and hearing, 
both of which were always acute, responded to an extraordinary 
degree to the clarity of the air. The climate was ideal for his 
observations. The sun’s rays were fiercely intense, the air dry and the 
frequent lightning storms of almost inconceivable violence. 12 

In mid-June, with all of his equipment installed and prepara- 
tions for various tests going forward, he arranged one of his receiving 
transformers with a view to determining experimentally the electrical 
potential of the globe. In accordance with a careful plan, he wished to 
study its periodic and casual fluctuations. 

He placed a highly sensitive device controlling a recording 
instrument in his secondary circuit, and, with the primary connected to 
the ground, he placed the secondary on an elevated terminal. This 
produced a surprising result: The variations of electrical potential gave 
rise to electrical surgings in the primary; these generated secondary 
currents, which in turn affected the sensitive recorder in proportion to 
their intensity 

“The earth,” Tesla later reported in an article, “was found to 
be, literally alive with electrical vibrations, and soon I was deeply 


absorbed in this interesting investigation. No better opportunity for 
such observations as I intended to make could be found anywhere .” 13 
The natural lightning discharges in this part of Colorado were 
very frequent and sometimes of great violence, on one occasion about 
twelve thousand discharges occurring within two hours, all within 
thirty miles of Tesla’s laboratory Many of them he described as 
resembling gigantic trees of fire with their trunks upside down. And 
toward the end of June he noticed a curious phenomenon: His 
instruments were being affected more strongly by discharges occurring 
at a great distance than by those nearby “This puzzled me very 
much,” he wrote. “What was the cause?” 

One night while he was walking home across the prairie with 
the stars glowing coldly above, a possible explanation came to him. 
The same idea had occurred to him years before when he was 
preparing his lectures for the Franklin Institute and the National 
Electric Light Association, but then he had dismissed it as absurd and 
impossible. “I banished it again,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, my instinct 
was aroused and somehow I felt that I was nearing a great revelatioa ” 14 

Blackout at Colorado Springs 

“It was on the 3rd of July [1899] — the date I shall never forget — when 
I obtained the first decisive experimental evidence of a truth of 
overwhelming importance for the advancement of humanity.” 1 

At dusk of that day Tesla had watched a dense mass of strongly 
charged clouds gathering in the west Soon the usual violent storm 
broke loose “which, after spending much of its fury in the mountains, 
was driven away at great speed over the plains.” 

He noticed heavy and persistent lightning arcs forming almost 
at regular time intervals. Prepared with a recording instrument, he 
noted that its indications of electrical activity became fainter and fainter 
with the increasing distance of the storm, until they finally ceased 

“I was watching in eager expectation,” he noted in the diary 
“Surely enough, in a little while the indications again began, grew 
stronger and stronger, and, after passing through a maximum, gradu- 
ally decreased and ceased once more. Many times, in regularly 
recurring intervals, the same actions were repeated until the storm 
which, as evident from simple computations, was moving with nearly 
constant speed, had retreated to a distance of about 300 kilometers. 
Nor did these strange actions stop then, but continued to manifest 
themselves with undiminished force.” 2 

Soon Tesla felt sure of the true nature of the “wonderful 
phenomenon. No doubt whatever remained: I was observing station- 
ary waves.” 3 

He summed up the implications of this discovery thus: “Impos- 
sible as it seemed, this planet, despite its vast extent, behaved like a 
conductor of limited dimensions. The tremendous significance of this 
fact in the transmission of energy by my system had already become 
quite clear to me. 

“Not only was it practicable to send telegraphic messages to 
any distance without wires, as I recognized long ago, but also to 
impress upon the entire globe the faint modulations of the human 



voice, far more still, to transmit power, in unlimited amounts to any 
terrestrial distance and almost without loss.” 

Tesla visualized the Earth as an extremely large container 
holding an electrical fluid which resonance caused to be formed into a 
series of waves frozen in position. It was now certain, he wrote, that 
stationary waves could be produced in the Earth with an oscillator. 
“This is of immense importance He already knew that power 
transmission and the sending of intelligible messages to any point of 
the globe could be achieved in two radically different ways: either by a 
high ratio of transformation or by resonant rise. From the tests with 
electrical oscillators he now concluded — and so noted in his diary — 
that power transmission would be best served by the first method, but 
that where a small amount of energy was needed, as with radio, “the 
latter method is unquestionably the better and simpler of the two .” 5 
Later, leading scientists would erroneously criticize him for 
having made no distinction between the two functions. And, in 
keeping with his policy of secrecy, he did not trouble to enlighten them. 
But before Tesla would apply his theories practically he first had to 
perfect his equipment The test for which he next prepared called for 
millions of volts and tremendously heavy currents. No past experience 
could prepare him for what might happen, except in a general way 
Bolts of his man-made lightning were bound to explode from the top 
of the two-hundred-foot mast and tower structure, but whether they 
would kill the experimenters and bum down the station was a risk they 
would have to take. 

On the appointed night he dressed neatly and carefully in his 
black Prince Albert coat, donned gloves and a black derby hat, and 
arrived at the station to find courageous Cato already waiting. The 
latter would man the switch, giving Tesla the opportunity to observe 
effects from the doorway of the laboratory. It was important for him to 
watch both the giant coil in the center of the room and the copper ball 
on the mast 

When all was ready he shouted, “Now!” 

It had been prearranged that on the first test the switch was to 
be closed for only a single second. Accordingly Cato slammed it in, 
watched the second hand on his pocket watch, and almost instantly 
pulled it out The effects in that brief instant were rewarding: threads of 
fire had crowned the secondary coil and electricity snapped above. 

For the main event Tesla wanted to watch from outside where 
he would have a clear view of the mast and ball 


“When I give you the signal,” he told Czito, “I want you to 
close the switch and leave it closed until I give you the signal to open 

In a moment he called, “Now! Close the switch!” 

Czito followed orders and stood poised to pull it out again on 
command. The vibration of heavy current surging through the primary 
coil made the ground feel alive. There came a snap and a roar of 
lightning exploding above the station. A strange blue light filled the 
interior of the bamlike structure. 

Czito looked up to see the coils a mass of surging, writhing 
snakes of flame. Eectrical sparks filled the air and the sharp smell of 
ozone stung his nostrils. Lightning exploded again and again, building 
to a crescendo, and still Cato waited for the order to yank open the 
switch. Unable to see Tesla from his post, he began to wonder if the 
inventor had been struck by lightning and lay injured or dead 
outdoors. To continue seemed madness. In another moment he feared 
toe walls and roof of toe station would be aflame. 

Tesla, however, was neither injured nor dead. He was frozen in 
a paroxysm of bliss. From where he stood he could see toe lightning 
bolts shooting 135 feet from toe top of toe mast, and as he later 
learned, toe thunder was being heard fifteen miles away in Cripple 
Creek. Again and again toe lightning surged and crashed. Sublime! 
Had ever a human being felt more in tune with toe gods? How long he 
stood there he had no idea. Later it turned out to have been only 
about one minute. 

But suddenly inexplicably all was silent What could have 
happened? He shouted to Czito: “Why did you do that? I did not tell 
you to open toe switch. Close it again quickly!” 

Czito, however, had not touched toe switch. The power was 
dead. God in His mercy had sent him a reprieve. 

Tesla rushed to a telephone and called toe Colorado Springs 
Eectric Company He began remonstrating and pleading. They had 
cut off his power; he charged, and must restore it at once. 

The reply from toe powerhouse was curt and to toe point 

“You’ve knocked our generator off toe line, and she’s now on 

fire!” 6 

Tesla had overloaded toe dynamo. The town of Colorado 
Springs was in darkness. As soon as the fire was extinguished a 
standby generator was put into service, but Tesla’s request to be served 
by it was brusquely denied. 

Determined to continue his experiments, he offered to take a 
team of skilled workmen to toe powerhouse and repair toe main 


generator at his own expense. The offer was accepted. Within a week 
the repairs had been made, and Tesla was once more provided with 

Thereafter his experiments progressed smoothly Scherff con- 
tinued to ship new apparatus to him through the icy Colorado fall and 
winter. To encourage the inventor he wrote, “Mr. Lowenstein has told 
Mr. Uhlman and me something of your wonderful work, and we know 
that, instead of a century you are a thousand years ahead of others.” 

Unfortunately we have only an imperfect idea of some of the 
things Tesla attempted — and, for all we know, accomplished — during 
this period. His diary notes and later writings are often maddeningly 
unenlightening. For example he appears at one point to have been 
experimenting with the production of some kind of potent ray Among 
the items rushed to him by express were four double-focus Roentgen 
tubes with thick platinum targets; and one journal entry reads: 
“Arrangements with single terminal tube for production of powerful 
rays. There being practically no limit to the power of an oscillator, it is 
now the problem to work out a tube so that it can stand any desired 
pressure. . . ” 7 The exact purpose or results of these experiments are 
unknown, but for further information, please see chapters 29 and 30. 

The general thrust of his inquiries is, of course, clear. He tested 
high-power oscillators, wireless transmission of energy the reception 
and transmission of messages, and the related effects of high-fre- 
quency electric fields. 

Whatever their nature, his experiments seldom lacked glamor. 
Despite the warning signs he had put up on the fences and building, 
he had been disturbed by neighborhood boys peering in through a 
single window in the rear. Tesla had it nailed up. As a result of this, he 
came as near to being lolled as ever before in his risk-taking life. 

“It was a square building, in which there was a coil 52 feet in 
diameter, about nine feet high,” he later recalled. “When it was 
adjusted to resonance, the streamers [of electricity] passed from top to 
bottom and it was a most beautiful sight You see, that was about 
fifteen hundred, perhaps two thousand square feet of streamer 
surface. To save money I had calculated the dimensions as closely as 
possible and the streamers came within six or seven inches from the 
sides of the building.” 8 

The main switch for handling the heavy currents had proved 
hard to pull. To make its operation easier, Tesla had installed a spring 
that would cause it to snap closed at the merest touch. This innovation 
was soon revealed as more convenient than safe. 

On the day in question Tesla had sent Czito downtown and 


was experimenting alone. “I threw up the switch and went behind the 
coil to examine something. While I was there, the switch snapped in, 
when suddenly the whole room was filled with streamers, and I had no 
way of getting out. I tried to break through the window but in vain as I 
had no tools, and there was nothing else to do than to throw myself on 
my stomach and pass under. 

“The primary carried 50,000 volts, and I had to crawl through a 
narrow place with the streamers going. The nitrous acid Was so strong I 
could hardly breathe. These streamers rapidly oxidize nitrogen be- 
cause of their enormous surface, which makes up for what they lack in 
intensity. When I came to the narrow space they closed on my back. I 
got away and barely managed to open the switch when the building 
began to bum. I grabbed a fire extinguisher and succeeded in 
smothering the fire. . . ” 9 

He wrote a Dear Luka letter in which he metaphorically 
alluded to having tamed a wildcat and to being a mass of bleeding 

“But in the scratches, Luka,” he wrote, “there lives a mind — a 
MIND! Well, I do not want to say much, but . . . 

“I have made splendid progress in a number of lines but— how 
grieved I was to find that a number of my confreres of wireless 
telegraphy — of the syndicating kind — have been indulging in an awful 
lot of lying! Not a single of the contentions they have brought forth is 
true and my system, Luka, is used— pure and simple— without the 
slightest departure. . . ” 10 

This referred to Marconi who, working with the English Post 
Office electrician, William Preece, had sent a wireless signal eight miles 
across the Bristol Channel two years earlier and who now, in 1899, 
had just repeated this performance across the English Channel. 

Edison, reminded of his own unpromising experiments sixteen 
years before, now would begin to wonder if he might have the baas 
for a lawsuit against the young Italian. As it happened, he later would 
be awarded $60,000 from the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company 
for his patent But in truth, perhaps because of his deafness, Edison 
had never really believed that the “radio craze” would last. 

As for Tesla in Colorado, he confided to Robert Johnson that 
he was absolutely sure he would transmit a message to the Paris 
Exposition of 1900 without wire— ”my greeting to the crazy French!” 
He closed on a familiar note: “I have not yet found time to carry out 
my promise of becoming a millionaire, but I shall do so at the earliest 
opportunity...” 11 


What exactly did Tesla achieve during his sojourn in Colorado 
Springs? Certainly all the mystery, the furious activity, the considerable 
expense, and the periodic theatrical effects failed to produce any single 
practical invention — if by practical one means a telephone or a better 
bobbin. Judged by “Edisonian” standards, however, one might as well 
protest that Einstein invented no electric dishwasher. 

But did Tesla during this period, then, make significant contri- 
butions to new knowledge? The answer is yes. Scholars do not know 
and may never know the full range of his explorations, and there is the 
further problem that he often did not follow up on his intuitions, 
theories, and preliminary experiments to the point of verification. But 
he certainly made significant fundamental contributions as his scientific 
successors in several fields continue to discover. (See chapter 30.) 

The eminent Yugoslav physicist, Dr. Aleksandar Marincic, 
points out that today when we have proof of the Earth’s resonant 
modes and know that certain waves can propagate with so little 
attenuation that standing waves can be set up in the earth-ionosphere 
system, “we can judge how right Tesla was when he said that the 
mechanism of electromagnetic wave propagation in ‘his system’ was 
not the same as Hertz’s system with collimated radiation.” In his 
introduction to Tesla’s Colorado Springs Notes, Dr. Marincic observes 
that the scientist could not, however, have known “that the phe- 
nomena he was talking about would only become pronounced at very 
low frequencies”; and he surmises that further study of Tesla’s writings 
“will reveal some interesting details of his ideas in this field.” The diary 
especially throws light on his part in the development of radio, and 
there is no longer a question of his mastery of wireless transmission as 
early as 1893. 

In part, however, scholars can only try to reconstruct what 
Tesla thought he had accomplished. 

With his giant oscillator he believed he had set the Earth in 
electrical resonance, pumping a stream of elections (at that time, a flow 
of electricity) into it at a rate of 150,000 oscillations per second. The 
resulting pulsations had a wavelength of about 6,600 feet. Tesla 
concluded that they expanded outward over the bulge of the Earth, 
first in increasing circles and then in ever smaller ones yet with growing 
intensity, and converged at a point on the globe directly opposite from 
Colorado Springs — that is, slightly west of the French islands of 
Amsterdam and St. Paul in the Indian Ocean, 

Here, according to his experimental results, a great electrical 
“south pole” was created with a stationary wave that rose and fell in 


unison with his transmissions from his “north pole” at Colorado 
Springs. Each time the wave receded, it was reenforced and sent back 
more powerfully than before to the antipode. 12 

Had the Earth been capable of perfect resonance, the results 
could have been catastrophic, but since it was not, the effect, he 
believed, was merely to make available at any point on the Earth 
energy that could be drawn off with a simple piece of equipment This 
would include the elements of a radio tuning unit, a ground connec- 
tion, and a metal rod the height of a house. Nothing more would be 
needed to absorb household electricity from the waves rushing back 
and forth between the electrical north and south poles. He did not, 
however, satisfactorily prove this claim, let alone apply it Nor has 
anyone else. 

With his magnifying transmitter he had produced effects at 
least in some respects greater than those of lightning. The highest 
potential he reached was about 12 million volts, which is insignificant 
compared to that of lightning, yet far higher than anyone else 
produced for many decades thereafter. What he considered more 
significant, however, was that he obtained in his antenna current 
strengths of 1100 amperes. The biggest wireless plants for many years 
thereafter used only 250 amperes.* 

One day, working with such currents, he succeeded, to his 
surprise, in precipitating a dense fog. There was a mist outside, but 
when he turned on the current the cloud in the laboratory became so 
dense that he could not see his hand inches in front of his face. From 
this he concluded that he had made an important discovery. “I am 
positive in my conviction,” he said later, “that we can erect a plant of 
proper design in an arid region, work it according to certain observa- 
tions and rules, and by its means draw from the ocean unlimited 
amounts of water for irrigation and power purposes. If I do not live to 
carry it out, somebody else will, but I feel sure that I am right” 

This idea too went into his legacy of unfinished business, and 
to this date no one has implemented it. 

It has been reported by various writers that during his power 
transmission experiments in Colorado, Tesla succeeded in lighting up 
a bank of two hundred 50-watt incandescent lamps wirelessly, at a 
distance of twenty-six miles from his station. In his own writings, 
however, no such claim was ever made, nor is there other evidence 
that he did so. What he actually wrote was that, by use of the 

*When accepting the Edison Medical in 1917, Tesla recollected he had reached a 
potential of 20 million volts. 


magnifying transmitter, he had passed a current around the globe 
sufficient to light more than two hundred incandescent lamps. 

“While I have not as yet actually effected a transmission of a 
considerable amount of energy; such as would be of industrial 
importance, to a great distance by this new method,” he would write 
on returning East, “I have operated several model plants under exactly 
the same conditions which will exist in a large plant of this kind, and 
the practicability of the system is thoroughly demonstrated.” 13 He also 
wrote that he had observed the transmission of signals up to a distance 
of 600 miles. 

That was as specific as he cared to be on the subject Two other 
remarkable scientific achievements, however, were to result from his 
months of concentrated research in Colorado. 

In a diary entry dated January 3, 1900, after describing the 
taking of some laboratory photographs, he mentioned watching the 
formation of sparks into streamers and “fireballs.” 14 Ball lightning, or 
fireballs, is a phenomenon that has fascinated and baffled scientists 
from ancient times to the present Fireballs are mentioned on Etrurian 
monuments, in the works of Aristotle and Lucretius, and in the writings 
of the modem atomic scientist Niels Bohr Arago analyzed some 
twenty reports of fireballs in 1838. Some scientists have maintained 
that they are merely optical illusions, and so Tesla himself thought until 
they began to appear accidentally on his high-voltage equipment in 

These strangely ephemeral objects, unlike regular lightning, 
move slowly, almost parallel to the ground. They have been known to 
appear in airplanes in flight, move eerily along the floor of the cabin, 
and after no more than five seconds vanish. In modem plasma physics 
the most commonly held theory is that the fireball receives its energy 
from its surroundings by a naturally created electromagnetic field, and 
that the diameter of the plasma sphere depends upon the frequency of 
the external field, so that a resonance occurs. But the returns are still 
not in, and scientists continue to differ (see chapter 30). 

Nevertheless, Tesla’s speculations do accord with some recent 
hypotheses. He thought, for example, that the initial energy was 
insufficient to maintain the fireball and that there must be another 
source, which he believed came from other lightning passing through 
the fireball’s nucleus. For him fireballs were merely a fascinating 
nuisance, yet he took the time to follow this apparently useless 
research wherever it might lead — and in the process claimed that he 
had learned how to create the phenomenon at will. 15 Modem scien- 


fists, using the most powerful nuclear accelerators, have tried and 
failed to replicate his achievement (although the fascinating, and 
potentially valuable, nuisance still occurs unasked). 

Another of Tesla’s claimed discoveries at Colorado Springs 
came late one night as he was working at his powerful and sensitive 
radio receiver. Only elderly Mr. Dozier, the carpenter, remained on 
duty Suddenly the inventor became aware of strange rhythmic sounds 
on the receiver. He could think of no posable explanation for such a 
regular pattern, unless it were an effort being made to communicate 
with Earth by living creatures on another planet Venus or Mars he 
supposed to be the mote likely sources. No one at that time had ever 
heard of such phenomena as regular sounds from space. 16 

Thrilled and awestruck, he could only sit and listen. Soon he 
became obsessed with the idea of returning the signal: There must be a 

The probable explanation of what he had heard was radio 
waves from the stars. Not until the 1920’s were such counting codes 
again picked up by astronomers (and given official credence); and in 
the thirties they began to be transmitted as coded numbers into a 
digital recorder. Nowadays “listening” to the stars is commonplace. 

Although Tesla could not doubt the testimony of his ears, he 
could nevertheless anticipate the ridicule of his fellow scientists when 
they heard the news. He was therefore slow to reveal his discovery 
And the reaction when it came was all that he might have guessed. 

Professor Holden, the former director of the University of 
California’s Lick Observatory was the quickest to criticize: “Mr Nikola 
Tesla has announced that he is confident that certain disturbances of 
his apparatus are electrical signals received horn a source beyond the 
earth,” he told a reporter. “They do not come from the sun, he says; 
hence they must be of planetary origin, he thinks; probably from Mars, 
he guesses. It is the rule of a sound philosophizing to examine all 
probable causes for an unexplained phenomenon before invoking 
improbable ones. Every experimenter will say that it is almost certain 
that Mr. Tesla has made an error; and the disturbances in question 
come from currents in our air or in the earth. How can anyone 
possibly know that unexplained currents do not come from the sun? 
The physics of the sun is all but unknown as yet At any rate, why call 
the currents ‘planetary’ if one is not quite certain? Why fasten the 
disturbances of Mr. Tesla’s instrument on Mars? Are there no comets 
that will serve the purpose? May not the instruments have been 
disturbed by the Great Bear of the Milky Way or the Zodiacal light? 


There is always a possibility that great discoveries in Mars and 
elsewhere are at hand. The triumph of the scientists of the past century 
are still striking proof, but there is always a strong probability that new 
phenomena are explicable by old laws. Until Me Tesla has shown his 
apparatus to other experimenters and convinced them as well as 
himself, it may safely be taken for granted that his signals do not come 
from Mars.” 17 

But the last thing Tesla intended to do just then was to disclose 
his apparatus to other scientists. His work in Colorado was finished. 
The New Year, 1900, arrived and went almost unnoticed by the inventor, 
who was in the midst of preparations to dismantle his equipment 
and depart 

Tesla, at least seemed perfectly satisfied with what he had 
achieved in Colorado. He had made lightning dance at his command; 
he had used the whole Earth as a piece of laboratory equipment and 
he had received messages from the stars. Now he was in a hurry to get 
on with the future. 

Magnificent and Doomed 

When he leached New York in mid-January 1900, reporters and 
magazine editors pounced upon him. 

Predictably the eastern scientific fraternity had echoed Pro- 
fessor Holden in denouncing Tesla’s claim to have received a message 
of extraterrestrial origin — at least, without telling them how he (fid it 
But Tesla’s offense was greater than that The signals, as he had written 
to Julian Hawthorne of the Philadelphia North American just before 
leaving Colorado, indicated to him that “intelligent beings on a 
neighboring planet” must be scientifically more advanced than Earth- 
lings, a suggestion not easily swallowed by doctors of philosophy 

Tesla burned to reply to these “messages” from outer space. 
Certain that he was at the forefront of a broad, revolutionary technol- 
ogy he immediately began filing new patents for radio and the 
transmission of energy based on his Colorado experiments. 

As a first step, he envisioned building a world radio center 
offering all the sendees enjoyed today — interconnected radio-tele- 
phone networks, synchronized time signals, stock-market bulletins, 
pocket receivers, private communications, radio news service. He 
referred to it as a world system of intelligence transmission. 

The first patent that he filed on his return (No. 685,012) was a 
means for increasing the intensity of electrical oscillations, the medium 
for doing so being liquefied air to cool the coil and thus reduce its 
electrical resistance. He also received two other patents in 1900 and 
1901 related to buried power transmission lines and the method of 
insulating them by freezing a surrounding dielectric medium such as 
water. One, a reissued patent (No. 11,865), referred to a “gaseous?’ 
cooling agent — apparently a key word that had been inadvertently 
omitted from his original patent No. 655,838. He was therefore one of 
the originators of cryogenic engineering. 

Many years later, in the 1970’s, developmental projects were 
initiated in America, Russia, and Europe for methods of using 
superconductors to transmit underground bulk electrical power, em- 
ploying various cryogenic enclosures. Brookhaven National Labora- 



tory at Upton, New York, has been at the forefront of this international 
effort Brookhaven’s method resembles Tesla’s except that the object of 
the modem work has been to cool the conductor to a few degrees 
above absolute zero. The similarity moves closer, however, when 
considering Tesla’s 1901 patent No. 685,012, in which he describes the 
supercooling of conductors to appreciably lower their resistance, 
thereby minimizing their dissipation when conducting current This is 
yet another instance in which his pioneer work has gone un- 
acknowledged — possibly because it might open a door for the U.S. 
Patent Office to invalidate later claims. 

The race to be first with long-range radio transmission ap- 
peared to favor Marconi, of whose success the world press had made 
much during Tesla’s absence. Tesla scorned the paltry efforts being 
made in America, such as signaling the results of yacht races on Long 
Island Sound. He announced a plan to operate his robotic boat by 
radio control at the Paris Exposition— from his office in Manhattan! 

Meanwhile, as George Scherff reminded him, there was a 
problem of some urgency with respect to his bank account. He had 
run through $100,000 during eight months in Colorado. 

To whom should he turn? Colonel JJA? George Westing- 
house? Thomas Fortune Ryan? J. Pierpont Morgan? C. Jordan Mott? 
Although he was being ridiculed in the press, his reputation among 
capitalists still remained good. One thing that impressed such hard- 
headed gentlemen was the record of the Westinghouse Company in 
maintaining its monopoly of alternating-current patents despite the 
efforts of competing industrialists to batter down the walls. 

In a search for new developmental capital he again began 
frequenting the Player^ Club in Gramercy Park, the Palm Room of the 
Waldorf-Astoria, and, of course, Delmonico’s. To the same purpose he 
suggested to a willing Robert Johnson that an article for Century 
magazine be written by Tesla on energy sources and the technology of 
the future. He slaved over this article, which was eventually entitled 
“The Problem of Increasing Human Energy,” and which appeared in 
June 1900. Like most of Tesla’s writing it turned out to be a lengthy 
philosophical treatise rather than the brisk report on his Colorado 
research which Johnson had desired. Nevertheless, it created a 

Part of this was due to the accompanying photographs — some 
of the many taken in Colorado — in which the inventor resorted to a 
mild form of trickery involving not just time exposures but double 
exposures. They depicted him quietly seated on a wooden chair, 


absorbed in his notes, while enough lightning to kill a roomful of 
people slashed and snapped around his head. (Even though local 
photographers were available in Colorado, he had imported a Mr. 
Alley, a favorite from Manhattan, to record the experiments made with 
his magnifying transmitter.) The time exposures ran one or two hours 
in length, which of course produced much denser and more dramatic 
lightning effects than shots of single discharges would have done. And 
although the occupant of the chair did not simultaneously sit there — 
for he would certainly have been electrocuted— Tesla knew that the 
human focus was needed to heighten the dramatic effect. 

It had been a painful modeling job, for the experiments and 
hence the photographs had to be made at night when the weather was 
usually below zero. He explained in his diary how it was done: “Of 
course, the discharge was not playing when the experimenter was 
photographed, as might be imagined! The streamers were first im- 
pressed upon the plate in dark or feeble light, then the experimenter 
placed himself on the chair and an exposure to arc light was made 
and, finally, to bring out the features and other detail, a small flash 
powder was set off.” 1 Thus the structure of the empty chair in later 
exposures did not show through Tesla’s body as if in some weird kind 
of X-ray photo. 

The results were as felicitous as even he might have wished for. 
Everyone who saw these photographs was astounded. When he sent a 
print to Professor A. Slaby, who was beginning to be known as the 
Father of German Radio, the latter replied that Tesla must have 
discovered something unique; he himself had never seen anything like 

The inventor’s Colorado diary discloses that one reason for his 
constant experimenting with photographs there was his disappoint- 
ment with the pictorial results of his ball-lightning research. Of this he 
wrote: “A very important matter is to use better means of photograph- 
ing the streamers exhibiting these phenomena. Much more sensitive 
plates ought to be prepared and experimented with. The coloring of 
the films might also be helpful in leading up to some valuable 
observations.” 2 

He also was thinking further of “the value of powerfully excited 
vacuum tubes for the purpose of photography Ultimately, by perfect- 
ing the apparatus and selecting properly the gas in the tube, we must 
make the photographer independent of sunlight and enable him to 
repeat his operations under exactly the same conditions . . . such tubes 
will enable him to regulate the conditions and adjust the light effects at 
wilL” 3 


The Century article with its photographs and predictions thrust 
him even further into the center of controversy But though his 
scientific colleagues sniped, the press remained generally loyal. 

“The press at large has of late been having a good deal of fun 
with Nikola Tesla and his predictions of what is to be done in the future 
by means of electricity” wrote the Pittsburgh Dispatch (February 23, 
1901) from Westinghouse country “Some of his sanguine con- 
ceptions, including the transmission of signals to Mars, have evoked 
the opinion that it would be better for Mr. Tesla to predict less and do 
more in the line of performance. 

“Nevertheless a recent decision in the U.S. Circuit Court for 
the Southern District of Ohio fully recalls the fact that Tesla is by no 
means without his record of complete and thorough achievement . . . 

“Mr. Tesla has a wealth of enthusiasm and fertility of imagina- 
tion with regard to the future that naturally evokes witticisms. But 
anyone is ignorant of the recent history of electricity who does not 
know that Tesla stands in the front rank of electrical inventors, by what 
he has actually accomplished.” 

From the electrical-engineering editor Thomas Commerford 
Martin came eloquent support “Mr. Tesla has been held a visionary 
deceived by the flash of casual shooting stars; but the growing 
conviction of his professional brethren is that because he saw farther, 
he saw first the low lights flickering on tangible new continents of 
science. . . .” 

Publicity — whether good or bad — was precisely what Tesla 
wanted, for he still desperately needed to attract the attention of 
potential backers. One of the first (though not necessarily most 
important) to step forward was Stanford White, the celebrated 
architect The two men met one evening at the Player^ Club, which 
White had just remodeled, and, feeling an immediate rapport, soon 
fell into an intense conversation. White had read and been excited by 
Tesla’s vision of the future as painted for Century magazine. When the 
inventor began to describe the physical plant that he envisioned for his 
world broadcasting system, the architect became an eager partner in 
the grand plan. 

Nor was this grand plan a mere fantasy Even while Tesla had 
still been in Colorado, oscillators and other equipment were being 
assembled in his New York shop under the close direction of Scherff 
and an engineering assistant Security was tight as usual Immediately 
upon his return he got in touch with George Westinghouse, knowing 
that his engineers could supply the custom-built machinery he would 


His Colorado experiments, he wrote Westinghouse, absolutely 
demonstrated the practicability of establishing telegraphic communica- 
tion to any point on the globe “by the help of the machinery I have 
perfected.” He would need an engine and a direct-current dynamo of 
at least 300 horsepower on either side of the Atlantic, and these would 
be expensive. 

“You will know of course, ”he confided, “that I contemplate the 
establishment of such a communication merely as the first step to 
further and more important work, namely that of transmitting power 
But as the latter will be an undertaking on a much larger and more 
expensive scale, I am compelled to first demonstrate such feature to 
get the confidence of capital . . ” 4 He also requested that Westinghouse 
lend him $6,000, to be guaranteed by his English royalties. 

The industrialist invited Tesla to ride with him on the train from 
New York to Pittsburgh in his private “palace car” to talk over the 
whole matter. On the trip Tesla explained that Ms plant would surpass 
in performance the Atlantic cable both in speed and in the ability to 
send many simultaneous messages. He proposed that Westinghouse 
retain ownership of any machinery he furnished and interest himself to 
a certain extent in the venture. But Westinghouse had learned his 
lesson in the hard world of finance. He suggested that Tesla explore 
financing among capitalists who were looking for opportunities to 
invest excess wealth. 

One such prospect to whom Tesla then turned was Henry Q 
Havemeyer, otherwise known as the Sultan of Sugar because of his 
impressive monopoly of refineries. Tesla, lavish in gift-giving whether 
he had money or not, sent a messenger all toe way to Newport, Rhode 
Island, with an expensive cabochon sapphire ring as a wedding 
present for toe Sultan. Alas, his homage was not at once rewarded 

Others to whom he confided his plans for toe world system 
included Astor and Ryan. Although, toe full extent of Colonel Aster's 
involvement in toe project is unknown, Tesla must have had some 
success, for when toe former’s estate was appraised in 1913, it revealed 
five hundred shares of stock in toe Nikola Tesla Company 

The spring of 1900 passed with Tesla in an agony of frustra- 
tion. He and Robert read with dismay toe newspaper advertisement of 
F. R Warden & Company Bankers: “MONEY ... Marconi certificates 
will net you from 100 to 1,000% better results than any labor of yours 
can produce.” The stock of toe British Marconi Company had first 
been offered at $3.00; already it was selling at $22. 


Tesla, believing that Marconi had infringed his patents, wanted 
to sue him. His mood was further inflamed by the final lines of the 
advertisement “The Marconi system is endorsed by such men as 
Andrew Carnegie and Thomas A. Edison, and by the press of the 
entire world. Edison, Marconi, and Pupin are the Consulting Engineers 
of the American Company” 

There it was— the three of them in cahoots to cheat him of his 
invention of radio. Tesla wrote to Robert pretending to feel optimism 
about the damages he might recover in such a suit, saying, “I am 
delighted to learn from the enclosed advertisement that Andrew 
Carnegie has such responsibilities. He is a good man to call on for 
damages. My stocks are on the rise!” 5 

Of all the people who had read Tesla’s article in Century 
magazine and been impressed by the boldness of his vision, one fitted 
the inventor’s requirements perfectly: Jt Pierpont Morgan. 

The two met for a talk about the world system. Tesla in- 
stinctively was less forthcoming than he had been with Westinghouse: 
no need to distract the financier with too much technical information. 
Instead, he dilated on themes of money and power. He described to 
Morgan the plan for all wavelength channels to be broadcast from a 
single station. Thus the financier would have a complete monopoly of 
radio broadcasting. Where others in the field were thinking only in 
limited terms of point-to-point transmissions, as in ship-to-shore and 
transoceanic wireless, Tesla was talking about broadcasting to the 
entire world. Morgan was interested. 

Tesla followed up their meeting with a letter on November 26, 
1900, describing exactly what he was offering — up to a point He had 
already made transmissions over a range of nearly seven hundred 
miles, he said, and was able to construct plants for telegraphic 
communication across the Atlantic and, if need be, the Pacific Ocean. 
He could operate selectively without mutual interference a great 
number of instruments and could guarantee absolute privacy of 
messages. He had all the necessary patents, he added, and was free to 
enter into agreements. 

He proposed that his name be identified with any corporation 
that might be formed, and estimated a cost of $100,000 for building a 
transatlantic plant and $250,000 for a Pacific plant, with six to eight 
months to build the former and one year for the latter. 6 

He made no mention to Morgan of the wireless transmission of 
power; not because he had given up the idea, but for the prudent 


reason that it would have made some of the banker’s existing 
investments obsolete. In any event Mr. Morgan could not be expected 
to be enthusiastic about the prospect of beaming electricity to penni- 
less Zulus or Pygmies. 

Morgan replied that he would agree to finance Tesla to the 
extent of $150,000. That, however, he warned, was as far as he would 
go. Although he advanced only a portion of this sum and although the 
country was in the throes of rampaging inflation, which caused Tesla’s 
bankroll to begin shrinking immediately the latter was nevertheless 

The relationship (no doubt a familiar one for Morgan) quickly 
became like that between courtier and king. Morgan was “a great and 
generous man.” Tesla’s work would “proclaim loudly your name to the 
world. You will soon see that not only am I capable of appreciating 
deeply the nobility of your action but also of making your primary 
philanthropic investment worth 100 times the sum you have put at my 
disposal in such a magnanimous, princely way...” 7 

Morgan, who had no interest in philanthropic business ar- 
rangements, responded by sending Tesla a draft of their agreement 
and asking him to sign over 51 percent interest in his various radio 
patents as security for the loan. 8 

Tesla sent Morgan a note in which he quoted an admiring 
comment from Professor Slaby, now a German privy councillor in 
addition to being a renowned scientist “ ‘I am devoting myself since 
sometime to investigations in wireless telegraphy which you have first 
founded in such a clear and precise manner. ... It will interest you, as 
father of this telegraphy to know. . . .’” This would indicate to Morgan 
the speciousness of claims being advanced by Marconi and others. 
Tesla also observed to his patron that neither Raphael nor Columbus 
could have succeeded without their wealthy sponsors. 

With financing apparently assured, Tesla now set about acquir- 
ing land on which to build his transmitter. James D. Warden, manager 
and director of the Suffolk County Land Company who owned two 
thousand acres on Long Island, made two hundred acres at Shoreham 
available to the inventor. 9 The parcel, isolated and wooded, was 
adjacent to the farms of Jemima Randall and George Hegeman, and 
sixty-five miles from Brooklyn. The delighted Tesla christened the site 
Wardenclyffe and visualized it as becoming one of the first industrial 
parks. Two thousand persons would be employed at the world 


broadcasting station while their families resided in the surrounding 

In March 1901, Tesla went to Pittsburgh to place orders with 
Westinghouse for generators and transformers. At the same time he 
had agents in England scouting the coastline for a suitable location on 
that side of the ocean. He was now far too busy to think of the Paris 
Exposition, which came and went without a world-shaking demonstra- 
tion by the inventor. 

W. D. Crow, an architectural associate of White’s, worked 
closely with Tesla on the design of a tower, which would have at its 
peak a giant doughnut-shaped copper electrode 100 feet in diameter. 
Later this was changed to resemble the cap of a gigantic mushroom. 
The octagonal tower, made entirely of wooden beams preassembled 
on the ground, would rise from a large brick building. But the total 
height of this fantastic structure posed a worrisome question because 
of wind resistance. 10 

On September 13 Tesla wrote Stanford White: “I have not 
been half as dumbfounded by the news of the shooting of the 
President [McKinley was shot on September 6] as I have by the 
estimates submitted by you, which, together with your kind letter of 
yesterday, I received last night 

“One thing is certain: we cannot build that tower as outlined. 

“I cannot tell you how sorry I am, for my calculations show, 
that with such a structure I could reach across the Pacific. . . .” u 

For a time they considered falling back on an older design 
utilizing two, or perhaps three, much smaller towers, but eventually a 
single tower was built that soared to a height of 187 feet Within it was a 
deep steel shaft that ran 120 feet down into the earth. This shaft, 
encased by a timber-lined well twelve feet square and encircled by a 
spiral stairway, was designed so that air pressure could raise it to touch 
the tower’s top platform. Wardenclyffe was a landmark as magnificent 
in concept and execution as America’s Golden Age of electrical 
engineering ever produced. Magnificent and doomed. 

Because of the inventor’s impatience for delivery of his ma- 
chinery, Westinghouse assigned a special person to expedite it But the 
slowness with which Tesla was getting his money from Morgan forced 
the inventor to take on other work while awaiting the completion of 
Wardenclyffe. He moved his offices to New York’s Metropolitan Tower 
for increased professional visibility. 


One of his schemes for radsing money involved developing a 
special kind of induction motor built by Westinghouse, but there were 
continuing problems with it He also installed Westinghouse equip- 
ment at the New York Edison plant Meanwhile, George Scherff went 
exploring for business opportunities as far away as Mexico. 

A great disappointment to Tesla was the government’s con- 
tinuing failure to order his radio-controlled devices for coastal defense. 
When Congress passed a Coast Defense and Fortification Bill provid- 
ing $7.5 million, he wrote Johnson that perhaps half a million would 
be “invested in Teleautomatons of your friend Nikola,” and that the 
rest undoubtedly would find its way into the “hands and pockets of the 
politicians.” Even this note of cynicism betrayed unwarranted 

He soon had cause for bitterness. As the year 1901 drew to a 
close the world press blazoned the news that Marconi, on December 
12, had signaled the letter “S” across the Atlantic Ocean from 
Cornwall to Newfoundland. What astonished Morgan and many 
others was that he had done it without anything like the great plant that 
Tesla was building. 

They doubtless did not know that Marconi had utilized Tesla’s 
fundamental radio patent No. 645,576 filed in 1897 and issued March 
20, 1900. Small wonder that Tesla began to refer bitterly to the 
“Borgia-Medici methods?’ by which he was being deprived of credit 
and fortune. But radio technology was then a mystery to most 
scientists, let alone the average investment banker. 

Angry though he was, Tesla wasted no time on sour grapes but 
kept his eyes on the magnificent obsession rising from the farming land 
of Long Island. At first he nursed it along from a private home near the 
construction site. When Scherff moved out from Manhattan to expe- 
dite the work, Tesla returned to his stylish retreat at the Waldorf-Astoria 
to keep a finger on the pulse of Wall Street Each day he and Scherff 
exchanged several wires and letters. And since Wardenclyffe was only 
an hour and a half from New York by train, at least once a week the 
inventor, elegantly attired down to his gray spats and accompanied by 
a Serbian manservant beating an immense hamper of food, entrained 
for Long Island. 

He worried constantly about security. Across the Sound 
residents of New Haven watched in fascination as the octagonal tower 
rose like a mushroom grower’s fantasy above the tree line of the North 
Shore. As for the townspeople in nearby Shoreham, they believed 
themselves to be on the brink of fame and industrial prosperity. 

Ridiculed, Condemned, 


As the “wonder tower” lifted its airy spars ever higher, Tesla drove 
himself and a large staff without mercy He sent money to Germany 
for radio engineer Fritz Lowenstein’s return, and the latter soon joined 
the Wardenclyffe team. Another well-known engineer, R Otis Pond, 
who had worked for Edison, helped build the laboratory 

Years later Pond was to say that he disagreed with history’s 
assessment of the two inventors. Edison was “the greatest experimen- 
ter and researcher this country has produced— but I wouldn’t rate him 
as much of an originator,” he said Tesla, however, he considered “the 
greatest inventive genius of all time.” 1 

Pond often accompanied Tesla on long walks. They were 
together on the day in December 1901 when Marconi sent tire first 
transatlantic signal. “Looks like Marconi got the jump on you,” he send 
“Marconi is a good fellow,” replied Tesla. “Let him continue. 
He is using seventeen of my patents.” 

Pond also recalled Tesla’s worrying about the instruments of 
war that he had been inventing. He had just launched his model 
wireless torpedoes in the Sound encircled a ship with them, and 
landed them on the beach. “Otis,” he said “sometimes I feel that I 
have not the right to do these things.” 2 

The inventor’s hectic schedule often gave the impression that 
he was three or four individuals. His New York laboratory had become 
a meeting place for scientists from all over the world The nights were 
filled with social activities, arduous experimental work, the writing of 
patent applications, professional-journal articles, and letters to editors 
Seeing and being seen by the “right” people compelled him to 
function as both a day and night person; nights in a row passed during 
which he scarcely closed his eyes. An inevitable consequence of this 
frenetic schedule was that his friends became compartmentalized, 
occupying cells of his life that others were unaware of. Intimates such 



as the Johnsons, for example, had no idea of the prominence or even 
the identity of some of his newer confidants, which is not to say that 
they were ever displaced in his affections. 

The daylight hours were important for beseeching his patron, 
Morgan, to advance funds more rapidly; for reminding him that 
inflation was threatening to sink the shipi He met with other potential 
investors. He pleaded with manufacturers to expedite machinery and 
advance credit And while he remained in New York, he wrote daily 
letters of instruction to Scherff 

One welcome event in this hectic year of 1902 was a visit to the 
United States by England’s famous Lord Kelvin, who proclaimed 
himself in complete agreement with Tesla on two controversial issues: 
L that Mars was signaling America; and 2. that the conservation of 
nonrenewable resources was of critical importance to the world. 3 
Kelvin, like Tesla, was convinced that wind and solar power should be 
developed to help save coal, oil, and wood. Windmills, he declared, 
should be placed on rook at the earliest opportunity to run elevators, 
pump water; cool houses, and heat them in winter. 4 

Edison, however; differed with his distinguished contempo- 
raries, putting off the evil day of shortages for “more than fifty 
thousand years.” The forests of South America alone, he argued, 
would provide fuel for that long. 

When Kelvin expressed high praise for the “scientific prophet^ 
of America, it was an obvious appreciation of Tesla and came as balm 
for the inventor’s spirit After a banquet in Kelvin’s honor at Delmon- 
ico’s, the Englishman proclaimed that New York was the “most 
marvelously lighted city in the world,” and the only spot on Earth 
visible to Martians. 

Perhaps inspired by the excellent wine, he declared, “Mars is 
signaling ... to New York.” The announcement made headlines in all 
toe next day’s papers. When Tesla had made a similar assertion, toe air 
had been filled with controversy. Now that a man of Kelvin’s stature 
had said it, not a single demurrer was raised by toe scientific 
community even inducting Professor Holden. This sudden change of 
attitude inspired Tesla’s friend Hawthorne to write a misguided article 
that went farther than Kelvin’s sensational announcement Obviously 
he wrote, toe men of Mars and of other older planets had been visiting 
toe Earth and looking it over year after year, only to report back, 
“They’re not ready for us yet” However; once Nikola Tesla had been 
bom, things had changed. “Possibly they (toe starry men) guide his 
development; who can tell?” 5 


This one line alone may indict the romantic Hawthorne for 
planting the seed later nourished by those who would adopt Tesla as 
their pet Venusian and in so doing harm his scientific reputation. 

Thus, Hawthorne went on, it had been the inventor in the 
lonely observatory on the mountain-flank for whom the first message 
was gently rapped out “Another might have heard it and neglected 
it... But Tesla, whose brain, compared with those of most of his 
contemporary scientists, is as the dome of Saint Peter to pepper-pots, 
had been trained to the hour, and the signal was not in vain.” 6 

Although no one ever accused Nikola Tesla of lacking ego, we 
may imagine that he had to grit his teeth when he sat down to his 
writing desk to thank his friend for this embarrassing literary flight 
“That was very nice,” he wrote, “all except the dome of St Peter’s and 
the pepper-pots!” 

Then he prudently changed the subject and went on to speak 
of his scientific concerns: “Half the time I am like a man condemned to 
death and half the time the happiest of mortals. All is still but hope. It 
may take centuries but I feel it in every fibre it is coming sure! One 
thing is settled in my Colorado experiments. We can construct a 
machine which will carry a signal to our nearest neighbors as certainly 
as across your muddy Skykoll [sic] river. We can also feel safe about 
receiving a message, provided there are other fellows in tire Solar 
System knowing as well as we know how to operate this kind of 
apparatus....” 7 

In June Tesla moved his laboratory from Manhattan out to the 
new brick building at Wardenclyffe. Here, except for the exigencies 
flowing from the project itself, the demands on his time would be 
fewer. Only workers were admitted to the grounds. The isolation and 
quiet were just what he needed. 

What with one thing and another; when he was summoned for 
jury duty on a murder case in New York that fall, he put the notice 
aside and forgot it Soon, to his embarrassment, newspaper headlines 
made him sharply aware of an American citizen’s duties: “Nikola Tesla 
Fined $100 — Fails To Show Up for Jury Duty in General Session — Is 
Sorry Nowt” So he was, and reported at once to court where he 
apologized. He was then excused from duty on the ground erf his 
opposition to the death penalty The New York Times quoted him as 
saying that capital punishment was “barbarous, inhuman, and 
unnecessary” 8 

Marconi remained the hero of the hour in America as 
elsewhere. Tesla’s doings, by comparison, seemed merely mysterious. 


In February 1903 the Electrical Age carried a critical article about 
“Nikola Tesla — His Work & Unfulfilled Promises.” Wrote the author 
“Ten years ago Tesla was the electrician of greatest promise. Today his 
name provokes a regret that a promise should have been unfulfilled.” It 
had been too long since he had scored a clear triumph, and he was 
learning how short mortal memories could be. 

By spring (1903) Tesla’s money problems had grown so severe 
drat he was again compelled to return to New York to try to raise more 
funds. Even so, he did not entirely put aside his scientific preoccupa- 
tions. In a note to Scherff, one of hundreds, he asked that there be sent 
to Professor Barker of the University of Pennsylvania “the photograph 
(Roentgen) of the bones of a hand . . . taken in Colorado ... the tube 
was operated without wire by my system. . . ” 9 

When he returned to Long Island, it was for the raising of tire 
fifty-five-ton, sixty-eight-foot dome frame onto the top of the tower. 
(The plans had called for covering the dome with copper plates to 
form an insulated ball, but this was never done.) Scherff took the 
occasion to remind him that funds were dangerously low. Creditors 
were impatient Even when Morgan sent the remainder of the 
promised $150,000, it had scarcely covered outstanding bills. And 
Tesla felt that Morgan, with his great power over the national economy 
had been responsible to a large degree for the rising costs. 

He wrote the financier on April 8: “You have raised great waves 
in the industrial world and some have struck my little boat Prices have 
gone up in consequence twice, perhaps three times higher than they 
were....” 10 

Morgan, his capital still heavily committed to railroad central- 
ization and other sensible enterprise, declined to advance more funds. 
Two weeks later Tesla again wrote: “You have extended me a noble 
help at a time when Edison, Marconi, Pupin, Fleming, and many 
others openly ridiculed my undertaking and declared its success 

But Morgan still did not act, and Tesla, now beginning to feel 
pangs of desperation decided to play his final card. So at last he wrote 
to Morgan and bared his true goal— not just the sending of radio 
signals but the wireless transmission of power. 

On July 3, he wrote: “If I would have told you such as this 
before, you would have fired me out of your office. . . . Will you help 
me or let my great work— almost complete — go to pots? . . . ”“ 

The answer came eleven days later, addressed to N. Tesla, Esq. 
“I have received your letter,” wrote Morgan, “. . . and in reply would say 


that I should not feel disposed at present to make any further 
advances.” 12 

Tesla replied that night in Jovian style by going to the tower 
and setting off such a fireworks display as no one had seen before. His 
tests went on through the night and for several thereafter. Residents 
watched in awe as blinding streaks shot off from the spherical dome, at 
times lighting up the sky within a radius of hundreds of miles. Take 
that, Pierpont Morgan, they seemed to say 

When reporters rushed to the scene they were turned away. 
The New York Sun reported, “Tesla’s Flashes Startling, But He Won’t 
Tell What He Is Trying For at Wardenclyffe. Natives hereabouts ... are 
intensely interested in the nightly electrical display shown from the tall 
tower where Nikola Tesla is conducting his experiments in wireless 
telegraphy and telephony All sorts of lightning were flashed from the 
tall tower and poles last night [July 15th]. For a time, the air was filled 
with blinding streaks of electricity which seemed to shoot off into the 
darkness on some mysterious errand. When interviewed, Tesla said, 
'The people about there, had they been awake instead of asleep, at 
other times would have seen even stranger things. Some day but not 
at this time, I shall make an announcement of something that I never 
once dreamed of.’” 

Even stranger things? Was it simply a journalistic tease? 

In Colorado he had achieved voltages of ten to twelve million 
volts on the antenna sphere of his magnifying transmitter, although he 
believed that 100 million volts were feasible. On his return to New York 
he applied for another group of patents of which the most important 
was an “Apparatus for Transmitting Electrical Energy” related to the 
Wardenclyffe project, being No. 1,119,732 filed in 1902 but not issued 
until 1914.’" In fact it was filed only weeks after Marconi’s transatlantic 
wireless success. 

The problems of getting investment capital for unfinished 
Wardenclyffe were compounded in the fall of 1903, when the so-called 
Rich Man’s Panic struck. Now, the chances of wooing Morgan back 
into the fold seemed more remote than ever. 

Aided by his loyal friends, Tesla redoubled his efforts to raise 
money Lieutenant Hobson pulled all his strings trying to interest the 

♦First in this series was No. 685,012, means for increasing the intensity of electrical 
oscillations by use of liquefied air, issued in 1901; followed by 655,838, method of 
insulating electrical conductors; 787,412, art of transmitting electrical energy through 
the natural medium; 723,188, method of signaling; 725,605, system of signaling; 
685,957, apparatus for utilization of radiant energy; and 1,119,732. 


Navy in lobotry. Having seen Tesla’s radio-controlled boats and 
torpedoes in 1898, he urged him to display them in a naval exhibit at 
Buffalo and set it up so that the inventor would not have “the usual 
difficulties of formaUties.”But in vain. 

The naval hero reported that there had been a fight within the 
Navy about Tesla’s wireless exhibits— a feud not directly related to his 
inventions, he said, but rather something ongoing between two high 
officers, resulting in the rejection of Tesla’s entry. 13 It is possible that 
Hobson was skewing the situation to avoid hurting his friend’s feelings. 

Tesla then went to Thomas Fortune Ryan and succeeded in 
raising a little supplemental funding. But it all went into paying off 
existing creditors, whose bills were beginning to tower like War- 
denclyffe itself. He did not need patient, observant George Scherff to 
tell him where the trouble lay. “My enemies have been so successful in 
representing me as a poet and visionary,” he said, “that it is absolutely 
imperative for me to put out something commercial without delay” 

In the years ahead he would repeatedly stagger forth from 
avalanches of debt to strike out anew on some practical scheme for 
commercializing his inventions. Whether he was less fortunate as an 
independent than his old foe Edison, it would have been hard to say, 
but certainly their lives were following different paths. 

Edison in his late fifties was wealthy but ill with a variety of 
afflictions, including mysterious lumps in his stomach that had ap- 
peared during his X-ray research (they finally vanished). Disappointed 
in his ore ventures, increasingly deaf, he had withdrawn from emo- 
tional contact with family and friends. He had gone into semi- 
retirement, was old before his time, and not only could afford, but felt 
obliged, to hire a full-time bodyguard for himself and his household. 
Such were the stigmata of success. 

There was a growing interest in the medical profession in 
Tesla’s therapeutic oscillator, a small Tesla coil. Doctors and professors 
phoned from all over the country, saying they were constantly 
receiving inquiries for such high-frequency apparatus. Scherff told 
Tesla he could easily start a thriving business in medical apparatus, 
with a crew of thirty men and an investment of $25,000. He predicted 
a rapid profit of $125,000, almost as much as Morgan’s total invest- 
ment in Wardenclyffe. 

The inventor told him to go ahead with such work at War- 
denclyffe but did not himself seem much interested. Instead he issued 
two handsome brochures, one describing the world system of com- 


munication and another, expensively printed on vellum, that an- 
nounced his entry into the field of consulting engineering. 

The main work crew were kept busy fabricating and assem- 
bling novel devices, blowing glass vacuum tubes, and doing the 
routine work of firing up the steam generator. The latter job was 
spasmodic: by mid-July of 1903 the paying of coal bills had become a 
problem. Periodically die crew was laid off. 

When coal for the Wardenclyffe generator could be afforded, 
the inventor wired Scherff to stoke up for a weekend of tests and took 
a train to Long Island. “The troubles and dangers are at their height,” 
he wrote Scherff on one occasion. “Coal problem still awaits solutioa 
The Wardenclyffe specters are hounding me day and night . . . When 
will it end?” 14 

Scherff; now moonlighting as a bookkeeper for other firms, 
lent small sums of money when he could. Dorothy F. Skerritt later 
verified a report that he probably lent the inventor a total of $40,000 
over the years. 15 “Tesla seemed to have Mr. Scherff hypnotized,” she 

In an earlier and better time, as the inventor told her, he had 
been able to get money from Morgan just by asking for it On one 
occasion the financier signed a blank check and told Tesla to fill in what 
he needed. Tesla said that the amount was $30,000. But now 
Morgan’s disenchantment with Wardenclyffe was final. Tesla, equally 
firm in his determination to forge on, sent more letters — at first 
persuasive and beseeching, then angry, accusing, and bitter. They 
pursued the banker by special messenger everywhere, even to the pier 
as he embarked on yet another grand tour of the Continent 

Inevitably rumors spread that Morgan had acquired Tesla’s 
radio patents just to prevent their development but there was no 
proof When bad news whispered along Wall Street it gained strength 
from itself Word that Morgan was dropping out of the world system 
venture — he actually had been only a lender-convinced other poten- 
tial backers that it must be a soap bubble. 

Tesla knew such rumors were killing him; but there was little he 
could do except live each day trying to dodge bill collectors, pleading 
with other bankers and rich acquaintances, working out scientific 
problems of the project, seeking to market other inventions, and 
bidding for consultancies. 

The multiplier effect of his hard luck knew no geographic 
limits. He was sued for nonpayment of electricity furnished to the 


experiment station at Colorado Springs, and this was odd, considering 
that Leonard Curtis, one of the owners of the City Power Company, 
had assured him that electricity would be free. The city of Colorado 
Springs also sued him, for water bills. Finally the caretaker of his old 
experiment station brought an action for unpaid balance of wages due 

Tesla’s response to the city was Teslian. Inasmuch as he had 
graced it with his presence and had erected his famous station there, 
he wrote, he believed it should feel privileged to pay for the water 

He ordered the old lumber from the station sold and tire 
money therefrom paid to the power company And finally he returned 
to Colorado Springs to appear in court with his attorney to answer the 
caretaker’s suit The plaintiff was awarded a judgment of about $1,000. 
A sheriff’s sale of laboratory fixtures paid some of it The rest Tesla was 
to pay in $30 increments dragged out over half-a-dozen years. 

Then for a time it seemed as if his luck was turning. Money 
began trickling in from the sale of medical coils, which were now being 
manufactured on an assembly line at Wardenclyffe for hospitals and 
research laboratories. And he managed to invent a new turbine of 
revolutionary design, which he felt sure would restore his fortune and 

Although partying with his friends continued, there was a new 
frenetic quality about it as if the celebrants had begun to sense the 
tragedies ahead and were determined to lose no opportunity for 

Katharine sent invitations to come and meet the usual parade 
of celebrities, and reproaches when he failed to do so. One note ended 
typically: “We shall soon be far away but then you would never know 
it You do not need anybody, inhuman that you are. How strange it is 
that we cannot do without you.” 16 

She and Robert were preparing for another sojourn in Europe. 
Robert’s dilettantism was unflagging. “Mrs. Johnson tells me you are 
going to dine with the Countess of Warwick,” he wrote Tesla. “Will you 
be good enough to ask her grace if the Warwick vase could have been 
the original of Keatsi ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’?” 17 

Significantly, Johnson had begun to worry about whether his 
holding of stock in tire Nikola Tesla Company might be misconstrued 
by his employers, in view of the several articles and consultations Tesla 
had been asked to provide to Century magazine. He suggested to the 
inventor that the money he had invested ought better to be construed 
as a loan, with the stock as security Such concern about conflict of 


interest implied that Tesla’s stock as a scientist was slipping and that his 
name no longer carried the old cachet 

Many in the business world appear to have believed that Tesla 
was still receiving “princely” royalties from Westinghouse on his 
alternating-current patents, not realizing that he had been bought out 
at bargain rates in 1896. This was made clear by an article in the 
Brooklyn Eagle of May 15, 1905, calling attention to the “expiration” of 
Tesla’s valuable patents. The newspaper reported that “a great stir” 
had been created among electricians by announcement that the 
patents had expired: “There will be a grand scramble everywhere to 
make the Tesla motor now universally used without paying any more 
royalty to Tesla. The Westinghouses announce they have a number of 
subsidiary patents, and will fight” 

For it to have become known that Tesla was receiving nothing 
at all would have cast him in a strange light, not to his credit in the 
world of nonpoets. 

Late on the night of July 18, 1905, he wrote to Scherff, anxious 
at not having heard from him. “The last few days and nights have been 
simply horrible,” he confided, referring to an unnamed illness. “I wish 
I were at Wardenclyffe in a patch of onions and radishes. Troubles are 
at their height As soon as things are ready I will come out We must get 
much better results.” 

Only days later he wrote of worries about materials and of 
taking measures to prevent “the kind of accidents we have had before. 

“I will tell you frankly that it looks blue for this week unless L 
carries out his promise. ... I have several chances and many hopes but 
I have been deceived so often that I am a pessimist” 

He had been experimenting— for what purpose is unknown — 
with extremely high-pressure jets of water, of about 10,000 pounds per 
square inch. A tiny jet, if struck by an iron bar, would deflect it exactly 
as if another bar had hit it Such streams of liquid power had 
destructive effects on any metal with which they came in contact One 
day the cast-iron cap of the pressure cylinder broke, and a large 
fragment shot past Tesla’s face to tear a hole in the roof. 

On another day Scherff had his face seared while pouring hot 
lead into screw holes in the flooring. The lead struck water that had 
been used earlier to swab the floor and exploded upward. Tesla, a few 
feet away; was only slightly injured but Scherff was seriously burned. 
For a while it was feared that he would lose his vision. 

Considering the dangerous equipment with which the men 
worked daily; however, the accidents were remarkably few. 


Hobson, now a busy young naval recruiting officer, traveling all 
over the country yet sandwiching in campaigns for political office as 
well, never failed to call on Tesla when in Manhattan. He fretted about 
the inventor damaging his health with strain and overwork, tried to lure 
him to football games at the Naval Academy, and wrote encouragingly 
horn his parent^ home in Greensboro, Alabama. “My father and 
mother say they would rather meet you than any man in tire world and 
that you must come down and visit us and rest up from your herculean 

He wrote from Texas, from trains, from hotels all over the 
country, and often from the Army & Navy Club in New York. He spoke 
of the disappointments of his political candidacy; but in 1903 he finally 
resigned from the Navy to make a successful career of politics. 

Then on May 1, 1905, “the hero” wrote Tesla of “the greatest 
happiness that has come to me” — his forthcoming marriage to Miss 
Grizelda Houston Hull erf Tuxedo Park, New York. 

“Do you know, my dear Tesla,” he wrote, “you are the very 
fast person, outside of my family, that I thought of. ... I wish to feel you 
present, standing close to me, on this occasion so full of meaning in my 
life . . . You occupy one of the deepest chambers of my heart . . 

Two years later Hobson succeeded in winning election to 
Congress from his home state of Alabama and would serve there until 
1915. He would distinguish himself— to Tesla’s dismay — by becoming 
a leader of the prohibition movement The inventor considered alcohol 
in reasonable amounts an ambrosia, although his devotion to the naval 
hero would survive such ideological differences. 

Mark Twain, seventy years of age and relishing his fame, 
returned to America. He and Tesla sought each other’s company as 
often as their work and other demands permitted, meeting usually at 
the Player^. 

Katharine, distressed by Tesla’s commuting to Long Island, 
scarcely knew from one day to the next where to send her invitations. 
“1 will be here this evening,” she wrote, “but suppose you are 
throughout the week at your country residence in the remote wilds of 
Long Island. However, if you happen to be rusticating at your favorite 
resort, the Waldorf, send me a line when you receive this and let me 
know when I may expect you.... I want to see if you have grown 
younger, more fashionable, more proud. But whatever you may be 
you will always find me the same.” 19 

This invitation was unusual in its use of the singular pronoun; 
Robert apparently was traveling, or he was otherwise unable to 
entertain. Almost certainly Tesla did not accept 


But the early winter brought them all together for a holiday 
celebration on Thanksgiving eve. Tesla’s thank-you note to Katharine 
urged her not to despise millionaires since he was still hard at work 
trying to become one. “My stocks have gone up considerably today,” 
he wrote. “If it continues for a few weeks like this, the globe will be 
girdled soon.” 20 

Katharine sent another appeal urging him “to come for my 
sake as I need cheer and who is all potent as you. . . .” He put her off. 

Christmas he normally spent with the Filipovs. She wrote five 
days before the Yule to remind him, adding, ‘You must come here 
tomorrow evening as I want to see you for many reasons, to know how 
you are. But why try to enumerate them? You know them all except 
one. I have something to tell you by way of Germany. . . . When I wrote 
you last Sunday morning I sent you my first thoughts out of sleep. I 
knew that you were depressed but did not know why Please let me 
have a word dear Mr. Tesla that I may have something to count on, 
something to expect. . . .’ ,21 

The winter passed with his anxieties over Wardenclyffe mount- 
ing daily until it seemed there would be no end to his trials. 

The long steaming summer returned to New York, with Tesla’s 
routine seldom varying. To Scherff he wrote again of money problems: 
“Troubles and troubles, but they do just seem to track me. The Port 
Jefferson Bank will have to get along with interest, assuming that I can 
scratch it together.” 

Soon afterward, however, he hastened to send exciting news. 
He had had a meeting with Mr. Frick, the industrialist and nouveau- 
riche art collector. Since becoming manager of the Carnegie Steel 
Company trust in the 1890’s, he had managed to double the size of the 
plant through the assiduous use of exploited labor and cheap mate- 
rials. Now, enjoying the rewards of his prescience, he was casting about 
for new investments. The inventor’s note to Scherff exuded optimism: 
“Troubles are many but progress is encouraging. Had a very promising 
session with Mr. Frick and am full of hope he will advance capital still 
necessary.” 22 

At about this time Tesla and Johnson had an editorial ex- 
change over Hertzian waves. Tesla had sent the latter an article for 
Century that puzzled Johnson because of his assertion that such waves 
were not employed in wireless telegraphy. 

“There is Hertzian telegraphy in theory only,” Tesla explained, 
“since these waves diminish very rapidly with distance.” Hertz and 
Crookes, he said, did not apply true sources of power since they used 
the Ruhmkorff coil and a simple spark gap. Tesla claimed that he had 


made no progress In the field until he was Inspired to invent his 
oscillation transformer, with which he obtained greatly magnified 
intensity. He believed, after experimenting with different forms of 
aerials, that the signals picked up by the instruments were actually 
induced by earth currents instead of being etheric space waves. 

Kenneth Swezey, however, later wrote, “Tesla understood well 
the nature of Hertzian waves and constantly used them. His obstinacy 
in refusing to admit that these waves played a significant part in the 
operation of his wireless power equipment . . . merely helped confuse 
judges and lose cases for him throughout his lifetime.” 23 

After his “very promising” session with Frick, the inventor was 
again forced to send bad news to Scherff: the negotations had come to 

The year 1906 threatened to be, if possible, worse than its 
predecessor. Even his old friend Westinghouse seemed to be avoiding 
him. Tesla’s need for Westinghouse machinery at Wardendyffe re- 
mained almost as urgent as his need for capital. Thus he wrote to the 
industrialist asking, “Has anything happened to mar the cordiality of 
our relations? I would be very sorry, not only because of my admiration 
for you but for other serious reasons. 

“The transmission of power without wires will very soon create 
an industrial revolution and such as the world has never seen before. 
Who is to be more helpful in this great development, and who will 
derive from it greater benefits than yourself?” 24 Westinghouse, al- 
though knowing that without Tesla’s AC patents his firm could not have 
become the lusty adolescent that it was, replied in effect thanks but no 

The harrowing routine continued. Scherff wrote that a prom- 
ised carload of coal had not yet been delivered and that scheduled 
tests must be delayed. He also mentioned tactfully his extra job for two 
days a month keeping books for a sulfur manufacturing firm.This was 
a bad omen for Tesla, for Scherff would soon become a full-time 
employee of this company. 

Worse news lay ahead. On June 26, 1906, the newspapers 
were filled with sensational accounts of the murder of Stanford White. 
The architect had been shot three times by a Pittsburgh financier, 
Harry K. Thaw, the night before on the roof of Madison Square 
Garden, while numerous members of the New York “400” looked on. 
White was believed by the killer to have been involved with his wife. 


Evelyn Nesbit, in a love triangle. Later Thaw was committed to the 
Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane. 

But the architect who had given New Yorkers such splendid 
edifices as Madison Square Presbyterian Church, the Garden City 
Hotel, the Hall of Fame at New York University, and the Astor Mansion 
at Rhinebeck, was gone — leaving the tower on Long Island as his final 

Scherff left Wardenclyffe that fall. He never ceased, however, 
to keep an eye on Tesla’s financial affairs, working for him on evenings 
and weekends and almost always remembering to file his tax returns 
on time. 

The world system for broadcasting— a concept designed to 
incorporate almost every aspect of modem communications — was all 
over but the mourning. Yet as long as the tower stood, Tesla continued 
his efforts to complete it. 

Exactly when all the workers left, no one could say. Thomas R. 
Bayles, the general passenger agent of the railroad station just across 
the road from the abandoned plant, only noticed that passengers had 
stopped getting off there. A caretaker remained on duty for a time. 
When curious journalists or research engineers showed up they were 
allowed to climb to the tower top with its sweeping view of Long Island 
Sound. For all that the tower looked so light, it was built entirely 
without metal, even down to the wooden pegs holding together the 
wooden uprights and cross members. After abandoning the plan for 
covering the dome with a copper sheathing, Tesla had installed a 
removable disk through which a beam of radiation could be projected 
to the zenith. 

The visitors found the laboratory filled with curiously complex 
apparatus. In addition to much glass-blowing equipment there were a 
complete machine shop with eight lathes, X-ray devices, a great variety 
of high-frequency Tesla coils, one of his original radio-controlled robot 
boats, and exhibit cases filled with thousands of bulbs and tubes. 
There were an office, library, instrument room, electrical generators 
and transformers, and great stocks of wire and cable . 25 But after the 
watchman left, vandals entered, broke things, ransacked files, emptied 
papers on the floor and trampled them. 

“It is not too much to say,” wrote a Brooklyn Eagle reporter, 
“that the place has often been viewed in the same light as the people of 
a few centuries ago viewed the dens of the alchemists or the still more 


ancient wells of the sorcerers. An atmosphere of mystery hung over the 
place, an unearthly influence seemed to be radiated from the alembic 
... as if drawn down from interstellar space and spread over the 
countryside to inspire wonder and awe in the minds of the nearby 
farmers and villagers. . . .” 26 

In 1912 a judgment of $23,500 against the inventor for 
machinery supplied to the project was won by Westinghouse, Church, 
Kerr & Co. The equipment left at the site was taken to satisfy it 

Tesla, in order to maintain his fashionable mode of life at the 
Waldorf through the years, had given two mortgages on Wardenclyffe 
to the hotel’s proprietor, George C. Boldt They secured bills of about 
$20,000. He had asked that the mortgages not be recorded, fearing 
damage to his financial credibility When in 1915 he was at last unable 
to make any payments at all, however, he signed the Wardenclyffe 
deed over to Waldorf-Astoria, Inc 27 

The hotel corporation tried to convert its strange security into 
cash but no one in those days knew what to do with the nuns of a 
world broadcasting center. The War Department was approached for 
ideas but nothing came of it Next it was considered as a site for a 
pickle factory. Tesla must have wept when he heard this. But nothing 
caught on. And in 1917, rumors began to circulate that German spies 
were holed up in the magnificent tower, spying upon Allied shipping 
and radioing signals to U-boats. On July 4, 1917, an explosion of 
dynamite was discharged inside the tower. Newspapers and even tire 
Literary Digest reported that it had been blown up by the U.S. 
government to halt espionage. 28 Tesla denied the rumor. 

In fact the tower was destroyed under a salvage contract 
between the owners and the Smiley Steel Company of New York, but 
the inventor did not wish to disclose the real owners. And it was 
destroyed only in an effort to realize a few dollars from scrap. 

The tower proved to be more strongly built than its destroyers 
guessed. They had to keep blasting away as if it were rooted to the spot 
by some mysterious force. On the ensuing Labor Day it collapsed, 
dynamite having triumphed at last over the merely celestial. It brought 
the corporation $1,750 above salvage costs. A junkman noticed some 
of Tesla’s notes blowing down the street 

“I did not exactly cry when I saw my place after so long an 
interval,” the inventor wrote to Scherff, “but I came very dose.” 29 

Marconi, with Carl F. Braun of Germany, won the Nobel Prize 
in physics in 1909 for their “separate but parallel development of tire 
wireless telegraph.” 


Never for the rest of his life would Tesla give up on his concepts 
of power transmission and broadcasting. It was not a dream, he 
declared, “but a simple feat of scientific electrical engineering, only 
expensive — blind, fainthearted, doubting world.” 

Humanity he wrote, was not yet sufficiently advanced to be 
willingly led by “the discoverer’s keen searching sense.” But perhaps it 
was better “in this present world of ours that a revolutionary idea or 
invention instead of being helped and patted, be hampered and ill- 
treated in its adolescence — by want of means, by selfish interest, 
pedantry stupidity and ignorance; that it be attacked and stifled; that it 
pass through bitter trials and tribulations, through the strife of commer- 
cial existence. So do we get our light So all that was great in the past 
was ridiculed, condemned, combatted, suppressed — only to emerge 
all the more powerfully all the more triumphantly from the struggle.” 30 
Next to Tesla and society the greatest loser when Wardenclyffe 
fell was Morgan. There can be little question that he could have written 
his own ticket for an early lead in radio broadcasting, with a station 
operating on several adjacent-frequency channels, transmitting in 
multiplex mode, and thereby far surpassing the performance of the 
slow, single-channel transatlantic cable. Among the many who would 
use Tesla’s patents in the development of commercial radio (legally or 
illegally), one firm would soon be sending messages a distance of 
9,000 miles. The clarity of Tesla’s understanding of radio should not be 
confused with his efforts to transmit electricity wirelessly He did not 
confuse them 

The Great Radio Controversy 

Errors once committed to print are stubborn. With respect to the 
invention of radio, they have permeated many reference sources, 
histories of science, scientific biographies, and popular journals. The 
confusion— partly caused by Tesla himself— was officially cleared up in 
1943 when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an initial finding in 
Marconi’s favor to rule that Tesla had anticipated all other contenders 
with his fundamental radio patents.* 

The radio-engineering fraternity made a major effort to atone 
in 1956, on the occasion of Tesla’s one hundredth anniversary. It is 
strange therefore to find in the Dictionary of American Biography an 
article on Tesla by an eminent professor of electrical engineering and 
computer sciences, who cites reference sources through the forties, 
fifties, and sixties— yet completely omits reference to the U.S. Su- 
preme Court’s landmark decision. 1 Even more curious, this author 
cites articles on Tesla by Anderson, O’Neill, Swezey, and Haradan 
Pratt ( Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers), each of whom 
had done careful research to set the record straight Popular historians 
both in the United States and Europe have consistently repeated the 

Although the news has yet to penetrate encyclopedias, mod- 
em radio-engineering authorities now accord Tesla clear priority in a 
field that for years was confused by seesawing claims involving such 
international luminaries, besides Marconi, as Lodge, Pupin, Edison, 
Fessenden, Popov, Slaby, Braun, Thomson, and Stone, to name only 
the more famous of the pioneers. 

Dr. James R. Wait writes: “The simple picture shown based on 
Tesla’s disclosure in 1893 is the birth of wireless communication. 
Admittedly it follows the erudite theoretical and experimental inves- 
tigations of Hertz who demonstrated the action at a distance from a 
spark gap discharge. But, by a few years, it precedes Marconi’s 
inventions and practical demonstrations of wireless telegraphy” 2 
*June 21, 1943 — “United States Reports; Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court of 
tiie United States,” VoL 320; Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of America v. United 
States, pp. 1-80. 



-4 A 

Figures 165 and 185, referred to in the United States Supreme Court case, ate from 
Tesla's 1893 lecture and are frequently cited as evidence supporting his claim of 
invention of radio. 

Anderson points out that some have confused the argument 
with respect to the principles of transmission and reception of radio 
signals with the matter of transmitting voice— an important improve- 
ment made practical by DeForest’s Auction, or triode vacuum tube. “In 
a discussion of priority in the invention of radio, one must be very 
specific about definitions,” he writes. “In the . . . case of the Marconi 
Wireless Telegraph Company of America vs. United States (which was 
decided June 21, 1943, against the Marconi Company and striking 
down the fundamental Marconi patent), the following definition 
evolved out of the exhaustive depositions taken from many technical 
experts in the fields of radio and the physical sciences: 

“ ‘A radio communication system requires two tuned circuits 
each at the transmitter and receiver, all four tuned to the same 
frequency’ The definition does not embrace variable modulation that 
DeForesfs Auction provided and through which the transmission and 
reception of voice and music was made possible. It does not address 
the mode of electromagnetic propagation— that is, ground wave and/ 
or sky wave and the effect of the former on the latter. It does, however; 


implicitly describe the deliberate, selective transmission at a specific 
frequency and the selectable reception at that same frequency.” 3 

Marconi’s original patent application was filed on November 
10, 1900, and was rejected on the prior art disclosed by Sir Oliver 
Lodge. Tesla’s first patent was granted in 1898. Moreover Tesla was 
specific as to which of his patents were directed to wireless power 
transmission as opposed to signal communication, although this 
appears to have confused some of the critics of his radio patents. 

The U.S. Supreme Court found that Tesla’s patent No. 
645,576, applied for September 2, 1897, and allowed March 20, 
1900, anticipated the four-circuit tuned combination of Marconi. 4 

Tesla, long before anyone else, published in Electrical World 
and Engineer (March 5, 1904) what has always stood out as the 
clearest statement by any pioneer working in the wireless art of what 
radio was to become and as we know it today. He envisioned the 
entire concept of transmission of intelligence, not just the sending of a 
single message from one point to another— and he alone of the 
pioneers in radio did so. 

Tesla said his “World Telegraphy constitutes, I believe, in its 
principle of operation, means employed and capacities of application, 
a radical and fruitful departure from what has been done heretofore. I 
have no doubt that it will prove very efficient in enlightening the 
masses, particularly in still uncivilized countries and less accessible 
regions, and that it will add materially to general safety, comfort, and 
convenience, and maintenance of peaceful relations. It involves the 
employment of a number of plants, all of which are capable of 
transmitting individualized signals to the uttermost confines of the 
earth. Each of them will be preferably located near some important 
center of,civilization, and the news it receives through any channel will 
be flashed to all points of the globe. A cheap and simple device, which 
might be carried in one’s pocket may then be set up anywhere on sea 
or land, and it will record the world’s news or such special messages as 
may be intended for it Thus the entire earth will be converted into a 
huge brain, capable of response in every one of its parts. Since a single 
plant of but one hundred horse-power can operate hundreds of 
millions of instruments, the system will have a virtually infinite working 
capacity, and it must needs immensely facilitate and cheapen the 
transmission of intelligence.” 

These ideas were also discussed by him in Century magazine 
in June 1900 following his return from Colorado. 


Another pioneer of radio, Jl S. Stone, said in reviewing a field 
that included Lodge, Marconi, and Thomson: “Among all those, the 
name of Nikola Tesla stands out most prominently Tesla with his 
almost preternatural insight into alternating current phenomena that 
enabled him ... to revolutionize the art of electric-power transmission 
through the invention of the rotary field motor, knew how to make 
resonance serve, not merely the role of a microscope, to make visible 
the electric oscillations, as Hertz had done, but he made it serve the 
role of a stereopticon.... [I]t has been difficult to make any but 
unimportant improvements in the art of radio telegraphy without 
traveling, part of the way at least, along a trail blazed by this pioneer 
who, though eminently ingenious, practical and successful in the 
apparatus he devised and constructed, was so far ahead of his time 
that the best of us then mistook him for a dreamer.” 5 

Among the many authorities in radio who seconded this view 
(although perhaps not quite soon enough for justice’s sake) was Gen. 
T. O. Mauborgne, former head of the Signal Corps and chief signal 
officer of the U.S. Army In Radio-Electronics (February 1943, only 
weeks after Tesla’s death), he wrote: “Tesla ‘the wizard’ . . . captured the 
imagination of my generation with his flights of fancy into the unknown 
realms of space and electricity . . . [saw] with astounding vision far 
beyond his contemporaries, very few of whom realized until many 
years after the work of Marconi that the great Tesla was the first to work 
out not only the principles of electric tuning or resonance, but actually 
designed a system of wireless transmission of intelligence in the year 
1893.” 6 

Even Professor Pupin of Columbia University, testifying as an 
expert witness for the Atlantic Communication Company in a suit for 
alleged infringement of patent brought by the Marconi Wireless 
Company of America (Pupin’s side as expert witness was to change 
somewhat with time and circumstances), stated on May 12, 1910: 

“When William Marconi was ‘a mere strip of a lad working for 
Signor Riggie’ in Italy he grounded both wires out of curiosity in an 
experiment to see what would result and he produced wireless waves 
without ever fully realizing the full significance of it” But Pupin gave the 
credit for discovering wireless to Nikola Tesla, who “gave his discovery 
free to the world.” 7 

Another radio-engineering pioneer, Cdr. E. J. Quinby, USN 
(Ret), has recalled from his personal experiences in the early days of 
commercial radio development in America: 


“While others fought bitter word-battles in our courts over 
whose patents were really valid on the all-important system of tuning 
to avoid wholesale radio interference, nobody seemed to recall that 
Tesla had covered the subject back before the turn of the century with 
his comprehensive and fundamental patent on tuning of electrical 
circuits to resonance. Without this feature, today’s ever-expanding 
radio service would be utter chaos. A Supreme Court decision was 
finally reached in 1943, crediting Tesla with having anticipated all the 
others, thus making subsequent patents on the subject null and void.” 
Tesla himself Med to accomplish his dream of a world wireless 
system, Quinby pointed out, but he lived to see this all done by 
utilization of the system he so clearly outlined. 

“The high-frequency alternators Tesla built between 1890 and 
1895 produced up to 20 kHz, despite the critics who said it couldn’t be 
done, and who accused him of being an impractical dreamer,” wrote 
Quinby “It remained for Prof Reginald A. Fessenden to demonstrate 
that such machines could produce the required quiet carrier for voice 
modulation, thus eliminating the background roar of the damped-wave 
spark and arc transmitters with which others were experimenting. 
Fessenden agreed with Tesla, that the damped-wave transmitters were 
an abomination, and that the future successful radio development 
rested on continuous-wave generators.” 8 

Thus on Christmas Eve, 1906, and New Year’s, 1907, Fes- 
senden startled and delighted listeners up and down the East Coast of 
the United States and precipitated a flood of fan mail by broadcasting 
voice and music programs from his transmitter at Brant Rock, Mas- 
sachusetts. He was using a high-frequency alternator which he built, 
based on Tesla’s design and principle. 

During World War I, says Quinby, with the engineering talents 
of Steinmetz, Alexanderson, and Dempster, the General Electric 
Company at Schenectady succeeded in scaling up the small experi- 
mented models of radio-frequency alternators into the giant 200 kw 
production model, the first of which was installed at the Marconi 
Worldwide Wireless Station at New Brunswick, New Jersey, to replace 
tire unsatisfactory high-power spark transmitter. 

Ironically, Tesla was among dignitaries invited to witness the 
inauguration of reliable transatlantic service at this station. President 
Woodrow Wilson’s Armistice terms were carried by radio from the 
station to Kaiser Wilhelm in April 1919. 

Commander Quinby adds: “Later, when President Wilson 


made his historic voyage to Europe aboard the S.S. President 
Washington, voice communication was established between the New 
Brunswick station and the President Wilson while he was at sea — 
thanks to the pioneering of Nikola Tesla in demonstrating his high- 
frequency alternator back in 1895.” 

Galling as it was to Tesla, however, it remained undeniably true 
that Marconi first riveted the attention of the world with his successes in 
radio and thereafter cleverly held the lead in development with the 
Marconi Worldwide Wireless Company. 

On May 13, 1915, Professor Pupin testified yet again as an 
expert witness for the defendant in a suit brought by Marconi against 
the Atlantic Communication Company. This time he appeared to 
suggest that he himself had invented the wireless “before either 
Marconi or Nikola Tesla had discovered it,” according to press reports 
of the trial. 9 

In his own experiments, he said, he had found a wireless wave 
but had not realized its importance. Tesla, he iterated, however, “had 
given his discoveries to mankind, and this is one of the points on which 
the Atlantic Company experts expect to deny the claims of Marconi to 
certain wireless patents.” 10 

Tesla himself sued Marconi at last, in August 1915. The 
Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America also sued the U.S. 
government for allegedly infringing on “Marconi’sT patents during 
World War I. The war of the wireless patents was waged back and forth 
for decades, and little wonder that confusion ensued. 

A thorough account is contained in Anderson’s “Priority of 
Invention of Radio— Tesla vs. Marconi,” a monograph for The Antique 
Wireless Association (New Series) No. 4, March 1980. Anderson 
reports that radio pioneer Major Armstrong added an interesting— if 
somewhat confusing — sidelight to the controversy. He wrote to Ander- 
son shortly before his own death in 1953, saying that in his opinion 
Tesla was the true inventor of the guided weapon (robotry) but that 
there had been efforts to reduce his claim to that invention. Moreover, 
said Armstrong, he did not believe Tesla should be advanced as the 
inventor of radio 

“By his writings on the problem of signaling without wires, he 
fascinated and inspired some of the early workers in the field, Marconi 
perhaps himself included,” wrote this protege of Pupin who was now 
himself a famous inventor in radio. 

“However ... he Med to conceive or to experimentally 


discover that vital idea uncovered by Marconi which brought practical 
wireless signaling into being. I have pointed out if he had gone ahead 
on the basis of his erroneous theory, he would have been very likely to 
have discovered the principle that Marconi did uncover and so would 
have become known as the inventor of wireless telegraphy. But this he 
failed to do and so the credit quite properly goes to Marconi.” 11 

Tesla’s fame, Armstrong went on, was “secure on the basis of 
his accomplishments in the power held, and as a prophet of the 
possibility of wireless, and of wireless-controlled engines of war.” 

Armstrong almost appeared to be saying that because Tesla 
was famous as an explorer of one continent of science or two, it was 
unimportant that he be given due credit in a major third field. Perhaps 
in part this curious view reflected the growing academic commitment 
to specialization: generalists were out of style, hence the existence of 
any lurking Leonardo ought to be denied. 

Armstrong offered to confide to Anderson the “vital secret” 
that made Marconi’s work a success and Tesla’s a failure. In January 
1954 Anderson asked for this. He was distressed shortly afterward to 
learn of Major Armstrong’s unexpected death. But later, he said, two 
scientists who knew Armstrong and of his “unswerving championing of 
Marconi” told him that Armstrong was referring to the ground 
connection in a transmission-reception system. Anderson was 

“Every one of Tesla’s patents for either communication or 
power transmission showed the ground connection,” he wrote me. “In 
fact, the matter of ground conduction was the cornerstone of Tesla’s 
concept Nonetheless, and despite the fact that the Marconi patent was 
declared invalid by the Supreme Court, Armstrong stuck to his 
position. I guess that’s what confounded me so much— Armstrong’s 
overlooking an essential point already so clearly in evidence.” 12 

Haraden Pratt, fellow of the Institute of Radio Engineers* and 
past chairman of the IRE History Committee, has written that Tesla’s 
radio ideas and the apparatus he produced were left for others to pick 
up and embody for less ambitious but more practical purposes. 

“For this reason,” he noted, “Tesla’s influence on the develop- 
ment of radio was known to but a limited number of people. A few 
eminent persons who attended or read his lectures during the 1890 
decade were inspired by his revelations and some others, who later 

*The IRE is now incorporated in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 
Inc., or IEEE. 


delved into the background of the art, became aware of the pioneering 
import of his contributions. 

“Far ahead of his time, mistaken as a dreamer by his contem- 
poraries, Tesla stands out as not only a great inventor but, particularly 
in the field of radio, as the great teacher. His early uncanny insight into 
alternating-current phenomena enabled him, perhaps more than any 
other, to create by his widespread lectures and demonstrations an 
intelligent understanding of them, and inspired others not yet ac- 
quainted with this almost unknown field of learning, exciting their 
interest in making improvements and practical applications.” 13 

In sum, it is easier to see in retrospect than during Tesla’s time 
how the truth came to be obscured. 

Ample rewards went to those scientists, inventors, and engi- 
neers who successfully got in on the ground floor of commercial radio. 
Tesla, spending more time in his ivory tower than on ground floors, 
was to be smiled on fitfully by fame and in the long run ignored by 

In his later years an incident occurred that revealed the true 
depths of his feelings about the great radio controversy On a day in 
January 1927 a young Yugoslav named Dragislav L. Petkovic, visiting 
America, arranged to call upon him. He then lived on the fifteenth 
floor of the Pennsylvania Hotel at 34th and Broadway Times were 
hard and he had grown reclusive. Petkovic was invited to have lunch in 
his rooms and treated to a spread of California fruits and vegetables, 
fish, and honey. 

After conversing for a time, Petkovic tried to learn the secret of 
the animosity between Tesla and Pupin. Once he had asked Dr. Pupin 
about this matter. The latter had burst out, “How long will our people 
celebrate only mysterious persons, instead of what’s clear to everyone 
to understand?” 

Now, when he put the same question to Tesla, the inventor 
frowned and raised his hand as if to protect himself from something 
very unpleasant. After a pause, he explained to Petkovic that in the 
early days in America, when he and Pupin were both struggling to 
survive, the latter had asked him for help with the English language. 
According to Tesla, he was having difficulty holding a job with the 
telephone company. Tesla helped Pupin but later somewhat tactlessly 
reminded him of the favor. Pupin angrily said that he himself had been 
quite able to do the work and that Tesla “did not do anything for him.” 
Tesla was hurt but forgot the matter. 


Later, however, when he lectured at Columbia College, dem- 
onstrating his transformer and his theories of radio and electrical- 
power transmission, “Mr. Pupin and his friends interrupted my lecture 
by whistling, and I had difficulty quieting down the misled audience.” 
But this was not the worst 

“During the lawsuit which I’ve instituted against Mr. Marconi 
for stealing my apparatus and drawings from the Patent Office,” Tesla 
allegedly continued, “Mr. Pupin, called to testify on my behalf as a 
countryman, went on the side of Mr. Marconi, who, after three years of 
legal battle was forced to admit under oath that the transmission of 
power to long distances is my invention.” 

Tesla paused, then added, “Let the future tell the truth and 
evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The 
present is theirs, the future, for which I really worked, is mine.” 

With tears in his eyes but with a smile, he resumed his meal. 
He and the visitor quietly attacked their cantaloupe. Then the visitor 
asked another question. 

“Can you tell me something about Mr. Marconi?” 

It was one of the few recorded occasions when Tesla ever 
lapsed from courtesy. He laid down his spoon. 

“Mr. Marconi,” he said, “is a donkey” 14 

Midstream Perils 

The inventor, now aged fifty, his reputation as a scientist under serious 
attack, had seldom looked more debonair. He was still slim, smooth- 
faced, and young-looking, his hair as thick and black as ever. He still 
dressed like a fashion plate, had a wide circle of friends, and clung 
however tenuously to his cherished residence at the Waldorf-Astoria 

Indeed, Tesla’s relationship with the hotel may have come as 
close to a marriage as anything he ever experienced. A life not lived 
regally seemed to him scarcely worthwhile. Always one to confront 
disappointment with panache, he seemed to have a special talent for 
floating elegantly through the worst of times. It was not that he never 
worried about debts but simply that his mind, preoccupied with ideas, 
could screen them out over long periods. Thus he could chide less 
fortunate worriers like Scherff and Johnson for alleged fainthearted- 
ness in the face of financial adversity. Yet the psychic importance of 
money to the inventor, apart from his real need for it, seemed to grow 
in contrast to its declining accessibility, as his many letters to Johnson, 
Scherff, and others made clear. 

Although in appearance and in mode of life Tesla was to go on 
much as before, inwardly he had begun to change. His bitter 
disappointments in the early years erf the century exerted a corrosive 
and lasting effect upon his personality He wrote revealingly to George 
Westinghouse on the latter’s latest enforced corporate reorganization 
to say “the strength of a man shows itself in adversity” Unfortunately 
adversity also tends to reveal weaknesses. 

Tesla became an inveterate writer of self-serving letters to 
newspapers. Where in palmier years he had been generous in praising 
the achievements of both his predecessors and his contemporaries, 
and had seldom troubled to reply to personal critics, he now became 
prickly and shrill in self-defense. He was quick to put down competi- 
tors, the weak as well as the powerful, and to claim priority of 
discovery on his own behalf Cheated too often, he grew even more 


secretive in the protection of his patents. The psychic damage to him 
had been real and deep. 

Tesla was fortunate in the early years of the century to attract 
two loyal, intelligent women to his staff as secretaries, both of whom 
went on in later years to important careers of their own. Both, needless 
to say, had trim figures. 

Muriel Arbus was a charming blonde who assisted Tesla with 
patent claims and, after his death, went on to distinguish herself as the 
head of Arbus Machine Tool Sales in New York — the only woman in 
America at the time to have created her own firm as a buyer of large 
machine tools. She was extremely successful. 

Dorothy Skerritt joined Tesla in 1912, witnessed many demon- 
strations at his laboratory at 8 West 40th Street, and often went across 
the street to the New York Public Library to do research for the 
inventor. A person who met both women observed that Skerritt 
“seemed to be more aware of the underlying motivations of individuals 
and sensed the implications of adverse circumstances, yet said little. 
Arbus, on the other hand, took things at face value and seemed to 
enjoy talking about them.” 

Skerritt had worked for a patent-attorney group before joining 
Tesla and remained with him until 1922. Arbus spent WW II working 
for the Office of Production Management, the War Production Board, 
and later for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, after which she 
began her own unusual business. 

As for their mutual employer, more and more in the years 
ahead Tesla would advance scientific claims recklessly discussing them 
with reporters fresh from the moment of inspiration without subjecting 
his ideas either to experimental verification or even much reflection. At 
times he would seem almost megalomaniacal. Some journalists, 
interested only in headlines and bylines, quoted him without question, 
but those who cared for him, like O’Neill and Swezey, sought to save 
him when necessary from his own announcements. 

Edison had merely reflected the sniping of the professors when 
he had taunted, “Tesla is a man who is always going to do something.” 
But presumably such a charge could have been made against Edison 
himself by anyone choosing to overlook the sweep of his solid 
achievement in favor of his unrealized aspirations. He too courted 
reporters, inveterately promising mote than he could deliver. 

Professor Joseph S. Ames of the Johns Hopkins University 
had written an early attack on Tesla all too typical of the view from 
academe, a comparison of the works of Marconi, Pupin, and Tesla in 
which the latter came off a miserable third: “The Tesla motor, so called, 


and the electrical machines which are modifications of it, are known to 
the world, and so is the ‘Tesla coil,’ which is a simple improvement of 
one of Henry’s instruments; but as yet no discovery bears his [Tesla’s] 
name....” 1 

This attack, like others of its ilk, was, of course, simply 
wrongheaded. By the late 1920’s $50 billion would be invested in 
Tesla’s nineteenth-century induction motors and systems of power 
transmission throughout the world. He was “the father of radio” and of 
automation. Most universities, including Johns Hopkins, already relied 
on Tesla coils in their research laboratories. And a whole series of other 
original inventions had been patented, many of them before 1900, by 
the man of whom Ames could write “no discovery bears his name.” 
But it was also true that Tesla was more often an originator of 
broad concepts than of discrete innovations. His lectures radiated ideas 
that many others took in hand, applied practically and subsequently 
patented. Indeed, this was one of the reasons why he was now 
beginning to play his cards so much closer to his chest 

If at the same time he seemed to sensationalize his new 
projects and theories, it was because, acting as his own entrepreneur, 
seeking financial backing from investors and the wealthy he resorted 
to methods that would appeal to them. The shows staged in his 
laboratories were intended to dazzle the money people who, he 
realized, would not be technically able to “steal” his ideas. Fellow 
scientists, jealous but not deceived, were naturally unhappy 

Despite the fact that his cornucopia of ideas flowed almost as 
richly as ever, he had reached an age when he could no longer ignore 
his own modality. Friends and acquaintances began to fall away Mark 
Twain died in 1910, and the loss affected Tesla deeply Three years 
later Morgan also died, as great a pivotal figure in national affairs as he 
had been in Tesla’s own career. 

Tesla’s psyche had always been a festival of neuroses, but now 
his behavior seemed to become, if anything, stranger still. No one 
knew when the inventor began gathering up the sick and wounded 
pigeons and carrying them back to his hotel. Usually however; it was a 
mission that he carried out late in the day 

His whole routine was that of a night person. It was also that of 
a prince of the blood. To hotel servants he could be cavalier and 
cutting one moment, generously rewarding with tips the next 

As a night person he arrived at his office promptly at noon; as a 
prince of the blood he requited that Miss Arbus or Miss Skerritt be 
standing just inside the door to take his hat, cane, and gloves. Then all 
window shades would be drawn to simulate the darkness in which he 


worked most productively. In fact, the only time when the shades were 
raised was when a lightning storm was flashing over the rooftops of the 
city Then he would lie upon a black mohair couch to watch the 
northern or the western sky His employees said that he had always 
talked to himself, but that during these lightning storms, when he 
insisted on being alone, they could hear him through the door and that 
he became positively eloquent 

But despite all the stresses and anomalous symptoms, Tesla’s 
creative genius remained unimpaired. In 1906, the year of his fiftieth 
birthday, in the wake of many trials, he built the first model of his 
marvelous turbine. Possibly it had been inspired by his childhood 
efforts to build a vacuum motor and by his plans, during the year he 
spent living in the mountains, for shooting mail through a tube 
beneath the ocean. Possibly the idea for the bladeless turbine went 
back even further — to his earliest memory of invention, when he had 
built a tiny waterwheel that had no blades but spun all the same. 

Whatever its provenance, the model weighed less than ten 
pounds and developed thirty horsepower. He later built much larger 
ones that developed 200 horsepower. “What I have done,” Tesla 
explained, “is to discard entirely the idea that there must be a solid wall 
in front of the steam and to apply in a practical way, for the first time, 
two properties which every physicist knows to be common to all fluids 
but which have not been utilized. These are adhesion and viscosity” 2 
Julius C. Czito, the son of Tesla’s long-time machinist Kolman 
Czito, built several versions of the turbine in his machine shop at 
Astoria, Long Island The rotor of the so-called “derby hat power- 
house” consisted of a stack of very thin disks of German silver, 
mounted on the center of a shaft They were enclosed in a casing 
provided with ports. “When deriving energy from any kind of fluid,” 
Tesla elaborated, “it is admitted at the periphery and escapes at the 
center, when, on the contrary the fluid is to be energized, it enters in 
the center and is expelled at the periphery. In either case it traverses 
the interstices between the disks in a spiral path, power being derived 
from or imparted to it, by purely molecular action. In this novel 
manner the heat energy of steam or explosive mixtures can be 
transformed with high economy....” 3 

He saw no limits to its uses. With gasoline fuel it could power 
automobiles and airplanes. It could drive ocean liners across the 
Atlantic in three days. It could be used for trains, trucks, refrigeration, 
hydraulic gearing (motion transfer), agriculture, irrigation, and min- 
ing — and it would run on steam as well as gasoline. He was even 


designing a futuristic automobile that he planned to power with it 
Above all, he believed that the turbine would be inexpensive to 
manufacture compared to traditional models. 

His spirits were greatly bolstered when the Tesla turbine began 
to be widely acclaimed— in concept. Even the War Department 
officers declared it to be “something new in the world,” and said they 
were “greatly impressed with it.” It seemed reasonable to expect that a 
fortune was to be made by the man who had designed a better rotary 

Tesla began to emerge from the endless trauma of humiliation 
and debt The scalding nightmares were occurring less often in which 
the death of his brother Daniel so long ago, his mother’s death, and the 
destruction of Wardendyffe seemed all mixed up. All he needed now 
was capital, and the turbine would put him back on top. He began 
ticking off in his mind the names of possible investors. 

The Nobel Affair 

The many mourners who crowded into the funeral for J. Pierpont 
Morgan at St George’s Church in Manhattan on April 14, 1913, were 
attending a theatrical closing, the end of a long run of history. Tesla had 
been sent tickets for the gallery, with apologies that better seats were 
not available. 

After the rites the inventor thoughtfully set his calendar ahead 
exactly one month. On May 14 he asked for an appointment with J. P. 
Morgan, the scion of the House of Morgan. 

The younger banker and the inventor met and talked mainly 
about the commercial potential of the Tesla turbine. Six days later the 
inventor received a loan of $15,000 from the J. P. Morgan Company 
with interest at 6 percent, for nine months. 1 

Tesla followed up their meeting with a letter describing in 
forceful and fluent words the uniqueness of his latest invention. 
“Knowing this as I do,” he wrote, “not merely as an expert but as a 
seer, you may judge how anxious I am, for the sake of the world, to 
connect myself with men of your integrity and power. . . .” 2 

Unfortunately he did not stop there. He could not refrain from 
reminding Morgan junior that Morgan senior had lent him $150,000 
for Wardenclyffe. Others had let him down in this venture, he said; 
otherwise the first world broadcasting system would by then have been 
flourishing. Accordingly, he proposed the formation of two new 
companies, one for the development of radio broadcasting and the 
other for turbine manufacture, offering “to turn over to you my entire 
interest in both,” leaving it to Morgan to accord to him such a part as 
he might choose. 

The younger Morgan replied stiffly that he could not possibly 
consent to Tesla’s turning over an interest in the two companies. 
Instead, he suggested that Tesla go ahead and organize the two firms 
and, from his profits, start repaying the $150,000 to the Morgan estate 
as and when he could. This did not end the dialogue, but it certainly 
crimped it 

Over the next several years the inventor favored J. P. Morgan 
with repeated invitations to invest in a wireless station and the turbine. 


But the financier neither understood nor was much interested in fluid 
propulsion or radio. As for the wireless transmission of electrical power, 
the old objection still obtained: Why would Morgan want to put all his 
power lines out of business? Nevertheless, the financier lent Tesla 
$5,000 and then, like his father, took refuge in a European vacation 
He sailed that autumn, carrying some books the inventor had given 
him, and leaving Tesla pacing the dock. 

Meanwhile Tesla began licensing his turbine in Europe. 
Through the intercession of the former Prince Albert of the Belgians, 
he received $10,000 for the license in Belgium. A concession in Italy 
was expected to bring him $20,000. In America he concluded 
automobile and train lighting contracts and was working on other 
practical arrangements. But still his funds were far short of his needs. 

He struggled to take the disappointments philosophically and 
had a remarkably accurate idea of his own place in — or rather, out of — 

“We are but cogwheels in the medium of the universe,” he 
wrote to Morgan, “and it is ... an unavoidable consequence of the laws 
governing that fire pioneer who is far in advance of his age is not 
understood and must suffer pain and disappointment and be content 
with the higher reward which is accorded to him by posterity” 3 

When Morgan returned just before Christmas, Tesla presented 
him with a number of propositions. He was again desperate. “I am 
almost despairing at the present state of things. I need money badly 
and I cannot get it in these dreadful times. You are about the only man 
to whom I can look for help...” He closed by wishing the multi- 
millionaire a Happy Christmas. Morgan responded with a bill for 
interest of $684.17 on the two loans already extended and a hearty 
return of seasonal wishes. 

In January 1914, despite the threatening World War, Tesla 
pleaded with Morgan that he needed another $5,000 to finish and ship 
a turbine to the German Minister of Marine, High Admiral Alfred von 
Tirpitz. He felt that no question of loyalty was involved since he had 
already offered the turbine to the U.S. government Despite compli- 
mentary remarks about his invention from some in the War Depart- 
ment, no orders had been placed at home. This time Morgan relented 
and extended another loan. 

Two months later he offered Morgan a chance to finance an 
automobile speedometer and to buy a two-thirds interest in a new 
company It was becoming painfully apparent that there were prob- 
lems with the turbine: the metal had not been manufactured that could 
take such high speeds for long; and it was by no means inexpensive, at 


least in the early stages of development More time was needed and 
therefore, he must develop interim sources of capital. 

But this time Morgan’s secretary returned all the enclosures 
and advised that Mr. Morgan could not possibly be interested in any 
further inventions. 

Through the next winter, however, Tesla continued to appeal 
to Morgan again and again. “Please do not take this as another cry for 
help,” he wrote; but in reality it was a desperate cry. Meantime, he 
moved his offices from the smart Metropolitan Towers to the less 
©cpensive Woolworth Building. In November Morgan replied that he 
would extend the loans but would add nothing more to them. 

Everyone seemed to be hard up. Scherff sent the inventor two 
new notes of his own for signature, replacing the old unpaid ones, so 
that the former employee might be able to use them as collateral. He 
expressed disappointment that Tesla had been unable to make at least 
some payment; but Tesla, signing the new notes, wrote glowingly of his 
prospects for the turbine. 

In the midst of personal trials he still found time to help his 
friends. Johnson, who had been promoted to editor of Century 
magazine four years earlier, wrote urging secrecy in an office scandal 
that jeopardized his position. He referred to a letter from a Mr. 
Anthony “written without any knowledge of the situation at the office. 
What he will say when I tell him the new situation, the Lord 
knows....” 4 

Tesla, having interceded in the mysterious affair, wrote back 
that he had done all he could to dispose of the matter, “but I have 
encountered resistance and so fear I have reached no tangible results 
... I am not relaxing my efforts. Trusting that you will not let this little 
embarrassment weigh too heavily on your mind. . . ” 5 * 

But the little embarrassment— the nature of which remained a 
closely guarded secret— resulted in Johnson’s resignation. Things were 
never quite the same at their fashionable home on Lexington Avenue 
after that Although in time Robert obtained a new position as 
permanent secretary of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, his 
finances seem to have undergone some sort of erosion. The Johnsons 
continued to indulge themselves with the parties, the servants, and the 

*At one time much earlier Tesla had been a dose friend of Richard Watson Gilder’s, 
who preceded Johnson as editor in chief of Century. From many exchanges of 
invitations between Tesla and Gilder, followed by Gilder breaking such engage- 
ments, it appeared that Mrs. Gilder frowned upon her husband's friendship with the 
Inventor. On January 24, 1898, Tesla wrote to Mrs. Gilder “We have all been greatly 
disappointed for not having Mr. Gilder with us . . . apologizing for bothering you. . . " 


European holidays to which they were accustomed, but now their 
lifestyle was bringing them into debt A pattern began that would 
continue for the remainder of both men’s lives, of borrowing small 
sums of money from each other to cover overdrafts. More often, 
surprisingly, it was to be Tesla who bailed out Johnson. 

War with Germany was drawing ever closer for the United 
States. Tesla and young John Hays Hammond, Jr, on the latter’s 
initiative, corresponded at length on possible ways of earning money 
through military applications of their work in robotry. Hammond, using 
Tesla’s principles, had built an electric dog on wheels that followed him 
everywhere, its motor operated by a light beam behind its eyes. 
Bowser was not exactly an invention to set the generals and admirals 
fiercely bidding against one another, but Hammond had also operated 
a crewless yacht by radio in Boston harbor, and the two inventors 
toyed with the idea of forming a teleautomatics company. Hammond 
had an automatic selective system he wanted to develop, and Tesla 
thought that a dirigible torpedo he had invented many years earlier 
could be of service to the War Department But although he helped 
Hammond get a technical article published on the state of the art, their 
efforts at joint development were not pursued. 6 

Even at this stage in his career Tesla was still often handi- 
capped by public confusion about his citizenship. A Washington Post 
article, malting a common error, referred to him as the “noted Balkan 
scientist” And among the bureaucrats in Washington he may have 
suffered from a mistaken application of the NIH (not invented here) 
factor. Mere superiority of product would seldom be enough to 
override such a disadvantage, however much society might be the 

But no doubt much more damaging to Tesla’s prospects at this 
time were those traditional enemies of innovation — inertia and vested 
interest An industrial consultant tells of inquiring some years ago of an 
executive in the Office of Naval Research in Washington, D.C., if they 
had ever sponsored R&D programs on the Tesla turbine. The reply 
was: “We get proposals all the time for funding Tesla turbine work. But 
lets be candid. The Parsons turbine has been around a long time with 
entire industries built around it and supporting it If the Tesla turbine 
isn’t an order of magnitude superior, then it would be pouring money 
down the rat hole because the existing industry isn’t going to be 
overturned that easily. . . .” 

Sometimes Tesla’s inventions had better luck backing into 
America from abroad. In 1915 a German firm, licensed to use his 
wireless patents, built a radio station for the U.S. Naval Radio Service 


on Mystic Island near Tuckerton, New Jersey. It was equipped with the 
famous Goldschmidt high-fiequency alternator of the magnetic reflect- 
ing type, which enabled radio frequency alternating currents to be 
developed directly 7 Tesla received royalties of around $1,000 per 
month from these patents for two years — a most welcome source of 

When the chief engineer, Emil Mayer, told him that messages 
from the station were being received at a distance of 9,000 miles, he 
took the news calmly for it merely confirmed what he already knew. 
“You have thus proved, practically what I demonstrated with my 
wireless plant in scientific experiments carried on horn 1899 to 1900,” 
he replied. Unfortunately the war soon brought his radio royalties to a 
halt The Tuckerton Radio Station was closed by the government in 
1917, the year of America’s entry into the war. Tesla did, however, 
receive royalties later from the Atlantic Communications Companies. 

World War I was brought home to America’s Serbian popula- 
tion long before it engaged the country at large. Local Slavs could not 
help but feel the impact since Serbia had led the movement for Pan- 
Slav unification that ultimately set off the whole conflagration. A 
Serbian nationalist assassinated the Archduke Francis Ferdinand at 
Sarajevo in Bosnia, leading to both Serbia and Montenegro being 
overrun by the Central Powers, composed, among others, of Austria 
and Germany Soon news of the extreme sufferings of the Serbian 
people reached the United States. 

Relief efforts were begun by local emigrants under the aus- 
pices of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian Red Cross, of 
which Pupin was chairman. Further proof of the antipathy between the 
two scientists is supplied by an anecdote from this period. The very 
Rev. Peter O. Stijacic with a noted professor of theology from Serbia 
called upon Tesla one day to solicit a message of unity to American 
Serbs, in hope of inspiring them to send more generous aid to the 
homeland. Innocently they suggested that such an appeal be signed 
by the famous Nikola Tesla, Michael Pupin, and Tesla’s dear friend, Dr. 
Paul Radosavljevic (known as Dr. Rado), who taught at New York 
University Tesla politely asked that they excuse him as a signer, 
knowing the impossibility of ever agreeing with Pupin on a word or a 
phrase, let alone a message of unity. And if the unification committee 
itself could not get together,... American Serbs, he said philosophi- 
cally but with amusement in his eyes, had minds of their own. 

In 1918 a kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was 
proclaimed under the rule of King Peter L But this by no means ended 


Slavic turmoil and misery. Eleven years later King Peter’s successor, 
Alexander I, following a move toward separatism by Croatia, estab- 
lished a dictatorship. At least the country then acquired one name for 
all its people and its parts—’ Yugoslavia. Tesla approved both of 
Alexander and of unity 

Another anecdote about the inventor Is told by the Reverend 
Stijacic. On his first trip to America as a young writer for the Serbian 
Federation, Stijacic had been surprised to find in the Chicago Public 
library, a book of poems, the author of which was the popular Serbian 
poet, Zmaj-Jovan. The translator was Nikola Tesla. Later, when Stijacic 
was taken by Dr. Rado to meet the inventor in his offices on the 
twentieth floor of the Metropolitan Tower, he said, “Mr. Tesla, I did not 
know that you were interested in poetry.” 

A look of wry amusement shone in the inventor’s eyes. “There 
are many of us Serbs who sing,” he said, “but there is nobody to listen 
to us.” 

The New York Times on November 6, 1915, carried a story on 
page one, based upon a Reuter’s dispatch from London, reporting that 
Tesla and Edison were to share the Nobel Prize in physics. Interviewed 
the next day, Tesla told a Times reporter he had received no official 
notification of the award. But he speculated that it might be for his 
discovery of a way to transmit energy without wires. This, he said, had 
proved to be practical not only over terrestrial distances but “even 
effects of cosmic magnitude may be created.” 

He then described for the reporter a future when all wars 
would be waged with electrical waves instead of explosives. More 
positively, he said, “We can illuminate the sky and deprive the ocean of 
its tenors! We can draw unlimited quantities of water from the ocean 
for irrigation! We can fertilize the soil and draw energy from the sun!” 8 
Asked what he thought Edison was being honored for, Tesla 
tactfully replied that Edison was worthy of a dozen Nobel prizes. That 
gentleman, reached in Omaha on his way home from the Panama- 
Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, seemed surprised when shown the 
London dispatch. He too said he had received no official notice. He 
made no further comment. 

Robert and Katharine were unsurprised but delighted by the 
news. The former quickly sent his congratulations. Tesla, his mood 
now more thoughtful, replied that many people would win the Nobel 
Prize, but that “I have not less than four dozen of my creations 
identified with my name in technical literature. These are honors real 


and permanent, which are bestowed, not by a few who are apt to err, 
but by the whole world which seldom makes a mistake, and for any of 
these I would give all the Nobel prizes during the next thousand 
years.” 9 

What followed was a curious business. The western press, 
Including leading magazines, picked up the story and without check- 
ing, gave it wide circulation. In another story in the Times, Tesla was 
interviewed again as a Nobel winner. 

His comments to the inquiring reporter were entirely typical. 
He bemoaned the fact that the world, after so many years, still did not 
understand his concepts of voice transmission. With such a plant as 
Wardenclyffe, he explained, the telephone exchange of New York City 
could hook up, enabling subscribers to speak to anyone in' the world 
without any change in the telephonic apparatus. A picture from the 
European battlefields could be transmitted to New York in five 

The current passed through the earth, he elaborated, starting 
from the transmission station with infinite speed from that region and, 
slowing down to the speed of light at a distance of 6,000 miles, then 
increasing in speed from that region and reaching the receiving station 
with infinite velocity 

“It’s a wonderful thing. Wireless is coming to mankind in its full 
meaning like a hurricane, some of these days. Some day there will be, 
say, six great wireless telephone stations in the world system con- 
necting all the inhabitants of this earth to one another not only by voice 
but by sight” 10 

Flawed though his physics might be (Tesla would resist to the 
end the idea that light sped faster than anything) his prophecy was 
sound enough. He did not explicitly foresee today’s microwave- 
boosting synchronous satellites for television, yet something of the sort 
had been in his mind since, as a teenager, he had envisioned building 
a ring around the equator that would revolve in Earth synchrony. 

And if he did not invent television, he at least imagined it Four 
years later Johnson suggested that as a money-making venture, Tesla 
invent a way of reproducing football games on a home screen as they 
occurred. “I am already expecting to become a multimillionaire 
without going into show business," he replied, but went on to offer his 
“best suggestion,” which was to employ “nine flying machines, winged 
and propellerless five hundred miles or more, take negatives, develop 
films, and reel them off as they arrive. ... It calls for an invention to 
which I have devoted twenty years of careful study, which I hope will 


ultimately realize, that is television, making possible to see at distance 
through a wire. . . But, in fact, he never pursued this idea. 

The report of the Nobel Prize in physics for 1915, to be jointly 
shared by Edison and Tesla, was carried in the Literary Digest 12 and 
The Electrical World of New York, 13 both publications having gone to 
press before November 14, the date on which another Reuter’s 
dispatch, this time from Stockholm, dropped a devastating bombshell. 
The Nobel Committee announced that the prize for physics would in 
fact be shared by Professor William Henry Bragg of the University of 
Leeds, England, and his son, W. L. Bragg of Cambridge University for 
their use of X rays to determine the structure of crystals. 

What had happened? The Nobel Prize Foundation declined to 
clarity One biographer and close friend of Tesla’s reported years later 
that the Serbo-American had declined the honor, stating that as a 
discoverer he could not share the prize with a mere inventor. 14 Yet 
another biographer advanced the theory that it was Edison who 
objected to sharing the prize, that it was in keeping with his “sardonic 
and sadistic brand of humor” to have deprived Tesla of $20,000 when 
he knew how much he needed funds. 15 

But no real evidence exists to prove that either of them 
declined the Nobel. The Nobel Foundation said simply “Any rumor 
that a person has not been given a Nobel Prize because he has made 
known his intention to refuse the award is ridiculous.” The recipient 
would have nothing to say in the matter, except to decline it after the 
fact if he or she so chose. But the Foundation did not deny that Tesla 
and Edison had been first choices. 

Edison’s fame and wealth were secure; he had little need of 
such an honor. But for Tesla it must have been one more cruel 
disappointment And certainly it was not the kind of publicity he 
needed at this critical time. 

Flying Stove 

The teething troubles that beset the development of the new turbine 
were substantial. Elated with the initial success of his small turbine 
models, Tesla had designed a large double turbine to test with steam at 
the Waterside Station in New York. This was Edison country, peopled 
with engineers of the New York Edison Company and predictably 
there were problems almost from the start 

Tesla’s habit of arriving at the station sprucely attired at 5 p.m. 
and insisting that the workers stay for overtime caused no pleasure. 
There wasn’t enough money to test the turbine properly even on a 
straight schedule. The engineers, failing to understand it reported it a 
misconception. And so on. 

More important there was a severe practical problem. At the 
tremendously high speeds at which the turbine operated, averaging 
35,000 revolutions per minute, the centrifugal force was so great that it 
stretched the metal in the rotating disks. It was to be many years before 
metallurgy would produce the superior metals required. 

He finally persuaded the Allis Chalmers Manufacturing Com- 
pany in Milwaukee to build three turbines, but again he was most 
undiplomatic with both engineering staff and management, and 
communicated his dissatisfaction to the board of directors. He walked 
out on tests after learning of a negative report by the engineers, 
claiming they would not build it as he wished. The; said he refused to 
supply enough information. 

When the manager of Westinghouse’s railway and lighting 
division wrote asking for details on the turbine, Tesla replied con- 
fidently that it was superior to anything in the competition in terms of 
extreme lightness and high performance. Indeed, he said, he was 
planning to use it in a boxlike flivver airplane. 

“You should not be at all surprised,” he wrote, “if some day 
you see me fly from New York to Colorado Springs in a contrivance 
which will resemble a gas stove and weigh as much.” 1 (The plane 
would weigh only eight hundred pounds and could if necessary enter 
and depart through a window.) 


FLYING STOVE <— » 199 

This vision, however captivating, failed to bring Westinghouse 
orders. Accordingly, in his efforts to continue development of the 
turbine, he took the, for him, unusual step of working directly for two 
companies — the Pyle National Company and the E. G. Budd Man- 
ufacturing Company. 

With the turbine he had invented a valvular conduit that 
enabled it to be used with combustible fuel. This unique conduit, with 
no moving parts, has recently been used in fluid logic elements, in 
which context it is referred to as a fluid diode. 2 Tesla’s 1916 patent of his 
valvular conduit,* which closely followed Fleming’s vacuum diode, is 
one of the cornerstones of the modem science of fluidics. But once 
again, he would manage to profit very little by his discovery 

Today the Tesla turbine is at last beginning to get some of the 
attention it has long deserved. One of the country’s leading research 
experts on it is Professor of Engineering Warren Rice of Arizona State 
University who, however, has confined his work to the fluid mechanics 
of the flow processes that occur between the disks. 3 

In 1972 Walter Baumgartner built an experimental model of 
the Tesla turbine engine that ran on compressed air aided by steam 
injection, and produced some 30 horsepower, at 18,000 rpm. 

In the 1980’s the unique turbine is under active development 
for vehicular and power-plant use by SunWind, Ltd., of Sebastopol, 
California. SunWind, Ltd., plans to use a modified version of the Tesla 
turbine, burning hydrogen as the optimal fuel, in a three-wheel car 
called the Rainbow. The turbine will also bum propane, vegehol, and 

SunWind president Mark Goldis states that researcher Peter 
Myers has built an experimental model of the turbine which verifies 
that it performs as Tesla predicted it would. He is now working on 
incorporating a proprietary combustion chamber to bring it up to the 
needs of contemporary designs and taking into account modem 

“We are convinced that the improved Myers vortex turbine, 
based on Tesla’s invention, will work better than any now in use, and 
that it will operate at 60 percent efficiency” Goldis says. Efficiency of 
most other turbines is about 40 percent He believes that most earlier 

’•'Patent No. 1,329,559, valvular conduit; 1,061,142, fluid propulsion, 1,061,206 
turbine. Also filed in the period 1909-1916: 1,113,716, fountain; 1,209,359, speed 
indicator, 1,266,175, lightning protector, 1,274,816, . speed indicator; 1,314,718, 
ship’s log; 1,365,547, flow meter; 1,402,025, frequency meter. 

FLYING STOVE <— > 200 

experimenters failed in their efforts to build Tesla’s turbine because 
they did not understand laminar flow as opposed to turbulent flow. 
The turbine, says Goldis, is inexpensive and easily machined . 4 

Another California firm, General Enertech of San Diego, is 
building and selling the Tesla turbine as a pump. This too has been 
improved and modernized. 

Alas, future vindication does not pay current bills. Tesla was 
having a hard struggle to meet the costs of day-to-day operation and to 
keep his credit for entertaining at Delmonico’s. It came as a trifling 
blow, a social anticlimax, when for the second time he was dropped for 
nonpayment of dues by the Players’ Club. With both Mark Twain and 
Stanford White gone, his pleasure in going to the old haunt had 

Still, his name continued to appear regularly in the press, 
headlines never ceasing to proclaim the originality of his imagination. 
His ideas had news value even when substance was lacking. “Tesla’s 
Tidal Wave to Make War Impossible,” declared the English Mechanic 
& World of Science, disclosing his idea for the use of explosives to 
create destructive ocean waves upon demand. Little more was ever 
heard of this brainchild. 

In a letter to the Times under the heading “Nicola [sic] Tesla 
Objects,” the new vulnerable and touchy Tesla issued a generalized 
complaint to the effect that he thought he should receive credit for his 
own inventions. Shortly afterward the sour-grapes attitude that his 
friends had marked with sadness was betrayed again on the editorial 
page of the Times in parallel columns — one a letter from Tesla, the 
other a story about the hero of the hour, Orville Wright 

Wright was being interviewed in a flat meadow near Wash- 
ington, D.C., as he prepared to take up his plane, which he had now 
flown many times, on a test flight This threatened to be a special 
occasion, however, for word had been brought to Wright that Presi- 
dent Teddy Roosevelt was standing by in the White House, hoping to 
be invited to accompany him as the Nation’s first Flying President 

Wright may be forgiven a certain nervousness at the thought of 
having for a passenger the toothy president, bundled from head to toe 
in high boots, leggings, helmet goggles, and white silk scarf. It was a 
proper dilemma, as the Times report hinted. The flyer had wanted no 
part of such responsibility, knowing how genuinely risky the test could 
be. Yet it also seemed risky to have to say no. 

A crowd of thousands had gathered on the crude flight strip 
awaiting the flyer’s decision. Wright had spent as much time as was 
decently possible tinkering with the motor. At last the pioneer aeronaut 

FLYING STOVE <— ► 201 

raised his wind gauge aloft and studied it The crowd held its collective 
breath. A slight zephyr fanned their brows. Wright lowered the gauge, 
shaking his head. “We cannot attempt a flight” he said gravely. 

One column over, Tesla made clear his contempt for such a 
state of aeronautics. All his life he had been working on designs and 
engines for advanced high-speed planes, but thus far he had tiled no 
patents. But he did not think much of what the competition had been 
doing and was at his most irritatingly superior 

“Place any of the later aeroplanes beside that of Langley, their 
prototype,” he wrote, “and you will not find as much as one decided 
improvement There are the same old propellers, the same old inclined 
planes, rudders, and vanes— not a single notable difference. . . . Half a 
dozen aeronauts have been in turn hailed as conquerors and kings of 
the air. It would have been much more appropriate to greet John D. 
Rockefeller as such. But for the abundant supply of high-grade fuel we 
would still have to wait for an engine capable of supporting not only 
itself but several times its own weight against gravity” 5 

The Langley plane, he said, was doomed if it encountered a 
downdraft and the helicopter was in this respect much preferable, 
although objectionable for other reasons. 

The really successful heavier-than-air craft would be based on 
radically new principles, he predicted, and would soon materialize. 
“[Wjhen it does it will give an impetus to manufacture and commerce 
such as was never witnessed before, provided only that Governments 
do not resort to methods of the Spanish Inquisition, which have only 
proved so disastrous to the wireless art, the ideal means for malting 
man absolute master of the stir.” 6 

Although such letters throbbed with the injuries done to him 
and only created more resentment toward him, his prophecy was, as 
usual, accurate. Honored at a dinner at the Waldorf with Rear Admiral 
Charles Sigsbee, he described the “aerial warship^ that were coming 
and once more predicted a wireless telephone that would encircle the 

The patents on his brilliantly designed flivver airplane or flying 
stove — in today’s technical literature the descendants of this craft (not 
to be confused with simple helicopters) are called vertical takeoff and 
landing aircraft (VTOL)— would not be filed until 1921 and 1927 and 
finally granted in 1928. 7 This is believed to be the only invention 
patented by Tesla of which, probably for lack of developmental capital, 
he built no prototype. The year the patents were issued the inventor 
would have been seventy-two years of age.* 

♦Patent No. 1,655,114, Apparatus for Aerial Transportation, January 3, 1928. 

FLYING STOVE <— ► 202 

The tiny plane, which he thought should sell for less than 
$1,000, rose straight into the air with its helicopter-type lifting pro- 
peller. The pilot touched a tilting device that pitched the craft forward, 
placing the propeller in front, airplane-style. The pilot’s seat swivelled 
to remain upright while he moved the wings into a horizontal position. 
Tesla’s light but powerful turbine was to thrust the plane forward at 
great speed. It could land by reversing the process — on a space the size 
of a garage roof, a living room, or the deck of a small boat. 

Tesla’s vertical-takeoff concept languished until nearly a dec- 
ade after his death. Then, in the early 1950’s, both Convair and 
Lockheed tested vehicles that, although vastly more sophisticated in 
engineering, adhered faithfully to the Teslian fundamentals. The more 
successful of these craft, the Convair XFY-1 “Pogo,” was a 14,000 
pound single-seat Navy fighter powered by a 5850 hp Allison T-40 
turboprop engine. At rest, it sat on its tail, nose pointed skyward. In 
action, it took off vertically then rotated 90 degrees to horizontal flight, 
in which it had a designed top speed in excess of 600 miles-per-hour at 
15,000 feet 

Although tests of the “Pogo” were generally successful, the 
Navy decided not to put the plane into production. The Allison engine, 
Navy evaluators felt was insufficiently powerful; the design of the 
pilot’s pivoting seat was inadequate to accommodate the radical 
changes of attitude required, and the tricky, essentially blind, landings 
were just too dangerous. 

But the potential military and commercial advantages of a full- 
scale aircraft that could take off and land without benefit of extensive 
runways were too great to be ignored. Following the intriguing tests of 
the Convair and Lockheed machines, the international aerospace 
industry entered into a full-scale pursuit of the ideal VTOL design. 
Numerous ideas were tried, but by the beginning of the 1980’s the 
favored design was of an aircraft which did not itself change attitude on 
landing and take off, but whose engines were modified so that the 
direction of thrust could be rotated through 90 degrees. Two of the 
modem world’s leading operational fighter planes — the Anglo-Amer- 
ican British Aerospace “Harrier” and the Russian Yakovlev Yak-36 — 
employ this principle. 

Plainly Tesla’s fliwer-cum-flying stove was a far cry from 
today’s sophisticated, massively powerful VTOL’s. Indeed, conceived 
as it was decades before the advent of the jet engine, the flying stove 
could hardly have been otherwise. But as the Convair and Lockheed 
experiments of the 1950’s suggest, the Teslian concept was an almost 

FLYING STOVE <— » 203 

Inevitable first step in true VTOL research. That Tesla should have hit 
upon this idea at a time when the enterprise of aviation was in its 
infancy is astonishing enough, but if we can credit the Yugoslav 
magazine Review, Tesla’s VTOL concept may even have anticipated 
the advent of powered flight According to this generally respected 
publication, there is information in the Tesla papers in Belgrade 
indicating that Tesla’s first VTOL drawings, along with plans for rocket 
motors, were destroyed in the laboratory fire of 1895!® 

The Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade contains, in addition to 
drawings of the aircraft, plans for an “aeromobile,” a jet-propelled 
automobile with four wheels, apparently designed for flying or for terra 
firma. His papers, according to museum officials, include “calculations 
for horsepower, fuel and other aspects, all of which lost their true value 
when Tesla passed away.” In addition, they report that he left sketches 
of interplanetary ships. This information, however, has not been made 
available to western scholars. 

In more down-to-Earth moments, Tesla designed specially- 
mounted lightning rods and air conditioning systems, and wrote 
proposals for manufacturers demonstrating that his turbine could be 
operated on the waste gases from steel mills and factories. He never 
saw smoke escaping from a stack when he was not offended by the 
waste of uncombusted fuel that used up finite resources. 

While his imagination continued to soar with the future, the 
circumstances of his present became drearier by the day. A rare quarrel 
over money occurred between the inventor and Scherff, but was soon 
forgiven. Scherff wrote that creditors were “hounding me hard,” and 
that the illness of his wife had put him in debt. He hoped Tesla would 
make some payment on his loans. 

The inventor loftily responded, “Please do not give way to 
bitterness. You know that the experiences you have had were unusual 
and that while they have not benefitted you materially to a great extent, 
they have been the means of developing the good that is in you. . . .’” 
When Scherff proved more insistent than usual, he sent a small 
amount of money and again took a superior stance in the matter “I 
am sorry to note that you are losing your equanimity and poise. . . . 
You must pull yourself together and banish the evil spirits. . . .” 

To further bolster the morale of his former employee and loyal 
friend, he reported that the development of his steam and gas turbines 
and of a blower had been almost completed and that they held 
revolutionary promise. “I am now at work,” he wrote, “on new designs 
of automobile, locomotive, and lathe in which these new inventions of 

FLYING STOVE <— » 204 

mine are embodied and which cannot help but prove a colossal 
success. The only trouble is where and when to get the cash, but it 
cannot last very long before my money will come in a torrent, and then 
you can call on me for anything you like.” 10 

On another occasion the much-tried Scherff pointedly wrote to 
say he was glad to hear a Tesla therapeutic device would soon be on 
the market because he himself could use one. Rather late in life, he 
bought a modest home at Westchester, Connecticut, and meeting his 
mortgage payments became a recurring subject with respect to Tesla’s 
outstanding notes. 

Although the “torrent” of money never came, Tesla did 
manage to find occasional major investors. Thus the Tesla Ozone 
Company was incorporated in 1910, with a capital of $400,000, to 
develop a process with several commercial uses, among them re- 
frigeration. Later, the Tesla Propulsion Company was capitalized at 
Albany New York, for $1 million by the inventor with Joseph Hoadley 
and Walter H. Knight, its purpose being to build turbines for ships and 
for the Alabama Consolidated Coal & Iron Company 

To add to his other problems, Tesla had trouble with his former 
employee, Fritz Lowenstein, in this period. Ever since the days of his 
secret research in Colorado, the inventor had worried about Lowen- 
stein’s loyalty He was reassured when the German engineer returned 
to work for him at Wardenclyffe, but within a few years this relation- 
ship was terminated for financial reasons. Lowenstein went on to 
become a successful inventor of radio devices. 

In 1916 he was called as a key witness for the defendants in the 
case of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America v. 
Kilboume and Clark, having agreed to testify that in his opinion the 
Tesla radio patents held sway over the Marconi patents. At the last 
moment, however, Lowenstein switched sides and testified for Mar- 
coni. Many questions were raised about his veracity, and charges were 
made but nothing was ever proved. As a result of this, however; he 
incurred Tesla’s lasting enmity. It appeared that in the period 1910 to 
1915 Tesla had lent substantial sums of money to the German radio 
engineer. Three years later Tesla brought suit against him, but did not 
go to triaL u 

Anne Morgan, now famous in her own right, reappeared in his 
life tangentially after her father’s death. Tesla had written to her of his 
deep admiration for the elder Morgan, which had outlasted his 
disappointments over money: “All the world knew him as a genius of 


rare powers, but to me he appears as one of the colossal figures of the 
ages . . . which mark epochs in the evolution of human thought and 
endeavor. . . -” 12 

Like Tesla’s turbine, Anne had become a powerhouse, her life 
crowded with humanitarian activities in education, children’s affairs, 
women’s working conditions, and immigrant welfare — not to mention 
fashion and the servant problems of the wealthy. Fresh from the 
pleasures of touring Europe, she would turn up in Women’s Night 
Court in Manhattan to befriend a wayward girl. An early Frances 
Perkins-without-portfolio, she traveled about America, speaking be- 
fore women’s clubs in behalf of her causes, which now included a 
vacation savings fund for working women. She conferred with judges 
about the problems of homeless, exploited young women, which were 
real and appalling, and sometimes she ranged as far as Topeka, 
Kansas, where Governor W. R Stubbs once admiringly described her 
as an “insurgent” 

Although she had all but forgotten her youthful infatuation 
with Tesla, they kept in touch. “I have hopes to see you this winter,” 
she wrote, “and am indeed sorry that a whole year has passed since 
we last met Have the months done much for you in your work, and 
do you now, at last, feel you are advancing. . . 9” 13 

Tesla, glad for the opportunity to renew their friendship, 
bragged a little: “The progress since our last pleasant meeting was 
steady and most gratifying. My ideas come in an uninterrupted stream 
as ever before. I see them grow and develop and am achieving 
happiness and, in a degree, success in the worldly sense.” He praised 
her own “noble work” and sent warm regards to Mrs. Morgan. 14 

The Triangle Factory Fire of March 25, 1911, in which 145 
shirtwaist workers, most of them young immigrant women, leaped to 
their death from a New York high-rise sweatshop, caused an outpour- 
ing of anger that led to more rapid unionization and ultimately to 
widespread reform of working conditions. Many additional workers 
had been injured in this fire, which resulted from a flagrant disregard 
for safety regulations. From this pivotal catastrophe much that Anne 
had worked for as a young woman was materializing. 

She was seen marching with strikers and had become a writer 
of formidable letters in behalf of her causes. In her tailored suits she 
was what journalists described as “full-figured,” a chainsmoker, fast 
talker, and much sought after as a fund raiser. It was said that her 
energetic presence “charged the atmosphere like an electrical 

FLYING STOVE <— > 206 

One biographer has speculated that Anne’s androgenic 
characteristics and Tesla’s putative asexuality might have formed the 
basis of their friendship. Undoubtedly, however, money and social 
position formed a stronger magnetism. 

In view of the many pleas for capital that Tesla made to her 
father and brother over the years, there is a certain turnabout humor in 
the fact that Anne did not scruple to tap him for her causes and that 
she appealed shrewdly to his snobbishness in doing so. In a long letter 
to Tesla while a fund raiser for the Women’s Department of the 
National Civic Federation, she grouped her subjects under such 
headings as “Almshouses?’ and “Citizenship,” reporting indignantly 
that the proponents of compulsory State Old Age Pensions had 
declared the almshouse “a relic of barbarism, a useless evil.” No 
flaming liberal despite her support of the downtrodden, she believed 
that the government must save and improve the almshouses. In sly 
conclusion she asked, “Will you be one of thirty to contribute $100 
towards the amount still needed this year?. . .” 15 There is no record that 
Tesla responded. He often had trouble paying his hotel rent 

In his desk lay another letter unanswered from Katharine 
Johnson: “Sometimes I hope you will make me tell you what I know 
about thought transference,” she wrote. “One would need to feel 
herself en rapport to speak of such things. I have had such a wonderful 
experience the past three years, so much of it is already dim, that I 
sometimes fear it will all pass away with me and you of all persons 
ought to know something of it for you could not fail to have a scientific 
interest in it I call it thought transference for want of a better word. 
Perhaps it is not all that I have often wished and meant to speak to you 
of this but when I am with you I never say the things I had intended to 
say, I seem to be capable of only one thing. Do come tomorrow, 
Saturday” 16 


The humiliating news of Tesla’s financial distress following his loss of 
Wardenclyffe was further advertised in March 1916 when he was 
summoned to court in New York for failure to pay $935 to the city in 
personal taxes. 1 Scherff had lain awake nights worrying about his 
former employer and his taxes, and now it had happened. Every local 
newspaper carried the story The misfortune seemed unjustly cruel, 
coming at a time when Edison had just been appointed to an 
important defense research post in Washington, while Marconi, West- 
inghouse, General Electric, and thousands of lesser firms were thriving 
on the profits from Tesla’s patents. 

He was now forced to confess in court that he had lived for 
years on credit at the Waldorf-Astoria, that he was penniless and 
swamped with debts. The land on which Wardenclyffe stood was 
taken from him and sold to a New York attorney, and it was even 
reported that the inventor might go to jail for contempt in connection 
with his tax debts. 

Yet somehow in this time of turmoil and heartsickness he 
polished and published the basic principles of what would be known — 
almost three decades later— as radar. 

German U-boats were sinking almost a million tons of Allied 
shipping a month when America entered World War I in April 1917, 
and the search for a way to detect submarines was of the highest 
priority But there was as yet no such urgency about finding a means of 
predicting air attacks, although long-range German planes and Zep- 
pelins had begun to raid central France and England with some 
regularity. Although it was predictable that aerial bombardment would 
eventually become horribly destructive, it was not yet so; and anyway, 
the air war was still thought to be romantic and dashing, bringing out a 
latent propensity for heroism even among its victims. 

When German planes dropped the first bombs on Paris, 
Parisians stood in the open streets to watch. When London was 
attacked from the air, Londoners trampled primroses and hedgerows 


RADAR <— ► 208 

racing to the scene. An airship brought down in flames was described 
by a newspaper as “beyond doubt the greatest free show that London 
has ever enjoyed.” 

Even the bombing victims showed few signs of stress, said The 
Lancet, so unique and stimulating was the experience. In fact the 
English welcomed the chance to show what the reporter described as 
“a fundamentally important factor, that of race, [which] is seen par 
excellence in the response of the crowd to stimuli of the character that 
we have become familiar with since the outbreak of the War. . . .” War 
made the English feel more English. 

In the circumstances, it is not surprising that when Tesla first 
began to speculate about military applications of radar, it was with 
respect to locating ships and submarines rather than to detecting 
enemy bombers. Tesla had predicted the general concept of radar in 
his sweeping article for Century magazine of June 1900: “Stationary 
waves . . . mean something more than telegraphy without wires to any 
distance. ... For instance, by their use we may produce at will, from a 
sending station, an electrical effect in any particular region of the 
globe; we may determine the relative position or course of a moving 
object, such as a vessel at sea, the distance traversed by the same, or 
its speed...” 

In The Electrical Experimenter of August 1917 he described 
the main features of modem military radar: “If we can shoot out a 
concentrated ray comprising a stream of minute electric charges 
vibrating electrically at tremendous frequency say millions of cycles 
per second, and then intercept this ray, after it has been reflected by a 
submarine hull for example, and cause this intercepted ray to illumi- 
nate a fluorescent screen (similar to the X-ray method) on the same or 
another ship, then our problem of locating the hidden submarine will 
have been solved. 

“This electric ray would necessarily have to have an oscillation 
wave length extremely short and here is where the great problem 
presents itself, i.e., to be able to develop a sufficiently short wave 
length and a large amount of power. . . . 

“The exploring ray could be flashed out intermittently and thus 
it would be possible to hurl forth a very formidable beam of pulsating 
electric energy...” 

What he had described were the features of atmospheric 
pulsed radar that would finally be practically developed in a crash 

RADAR <— » 209 

program only months prior to the beginning of World War II.* Tesla 
intended it to be used as underwater radar, however, which later 
proved impracticable because of the great attenuation of electromag- 
netic waves in water. Despite much recent research, no means have yet 
been found of propagating light, high-frequency radio beams, or radar 
through the ocean. But Tesla’s extra-low-frequency (ELF) waves will 
penetrate the seas and may serve a different purpose (see chapter 30), 
that of communication.t 

Even if Tesla’s radar could not be used to locate submerged 
objects, it was curious that no one could then imagine any other use 
for it At least as far as the Navy was concerned, Edison may have had 
a hand in shunting radar aside. Now a white-haired elder statesman of 
invention, he had been named to direct the new Naval Consulting 
Board in Washington, with the primary job of finding a way of spotting 
U-boats. Tesla’s idea, if even brought to Edison’s attention, would 
almost certainly have been discounted as mere dream stuff. 

In any event Edison had his hands full feuding with the Navy 
bureaucracy and cold-shouldering the “perfessertf’ who had begun 
clamoring for a piece of that new taste treat, the federal research pie. 
Edison’s own ideas were repeatedly chopped down by the Navy brass 
while he suffered frustration. As it turned out, the negative ramifica- 
tions of his appointment were to prove more important to history than 
anything positive he was able to do in the post 

At the time that Edison went to Washington, rumpled but rich, 
and Tesla remained in New York, poor but dapper, both men were 
aware that a gap as broad as the Hudson River was widening between 
them and the new generation of atomic physicists. The latter could talk 
of nothing but Einstein. The new people were specialists, although the 
splintering of minds was still in the infancy of its glory They joined the 
American Physics Society and believed little that failed to appear in 
their journal. 

Michael Pupin had gone to the trouble of carving out a section 
for engineers in the National Academy of Sciences, which previously 
had refused to admit even Edison. The line between practical men 

*A prototype of radar was officially credited to England’s Robert A. Watson-Watt in 
1935. But the history of modem microwave radar dates from 1940 when the 
multicavity magnetron became available. ( Encyclopaedia Britannica). 

**A blue-green laser communication system from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory 
shows similar promise. 

RADAR <-» 210 

(engineers) and theoreticians (physicists) caused artificial distinctions 
to be drawn that were handicapping the war effort Those who were 
inventors, scientists, and engineers, like Pupin and Tesla, or chemists 
and inventors like Edison, were almost by definition passe. 

The new physics boiled with debates over waves versus 
particles and about Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which Tesla — 
with strong cosmic theories of his own — rejected outright When 
Einstein’s general theory of relativity was published in 1916, even its 
creator had been unable to accept fully the dynamic universe that it 
implied So disturbed was Einstein by this that he built into his 
calculations a “fudge factor” that preserved the possibility that the 
universe might after all prove to be stable and unchanging. To Tesla 
this was just added proof that the relativists didn’t know what they were 
talking about. He himself was working on a theory of the universe to 
be disclosed in good time, and he had long ago propounded (but not 
published) his own dynamic theory of gravity 

He believed and had often stated, that atomic power would be 
1. a dud, or 2. impossibly dangerous to control. In this he had 
illustrious company. Einstein too had grave doubts about it As late as 
1928 Dr. Millikan said, “There is no likelihood man can ever tap the 
power of the atom. The glib supposition of utilizing atomic energy 
when our coal has run out is a completely unscientific Utopian 
dream. . . .” 2 And even in 1933 England’s Lord Rutherford could say, 
“The energy produced by the breaking down of the atom is a poor 
kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from transforma- 
tion of these atoms is talking moonshine.’’ 3 

Perhaps it rankled Tesla to hear one of the “new physic^* quips 
being attributed to Professor Sir William Bragg, co-winner of the 1915 
Nobel Prize that for a time he had thought to be his. God runs 
electromagnetics on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday by the wave 
theory, said Bragg; and the devil runs it by quantum theory on 
Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. 

Tesla’s thoughts in later life were tending more and more 
toward a unifying physical theory He believed that all matter came 
from a primary substance, the luminiferous ether, which filled all 
space, and he stoutly maintained that cosmic rays and radio waves 
sometimes moved more swiftly than light 

The younger scientists, most of whom were affiliated with 
universities, were just beginning to perceive what a garden of earthly 
delights government-sponsored research could be. Oddly enough it 

RADAR <— > 211 

was to be Edison, creator of the modem industrial research laboratory, 
who threw a spanner into their dreams. 

His first utterance as head of the Naval Consulting Board was 
that he did not think “scientific research would be necessary to any 
great extent” After all, he said, the Navy already had access to a vast 
“ocean of facts” in the Bureau of Standards. What the Navy needed 
was practical men to produce the technology, not theoreticians. And 
although the board was to have included civilian experts, he made it 
clear that he wanted no physicists — although a mathematician or two 
might be of some use. 

The scientifically ambitious naval officers were as disconcerted 
as the university scientists. What about submarine detectors? they 
wanted to know. Wouldn’t this take intensive research? 

Edison, unperturbed, said he thought the whole idea of a Navy 
research laboratory too exotic. But if the Navy insisted upon it, he 
believed it should know how he handled things in his laboratories: 
‘We have no system; we have no rules, but we have a big scrap heap.” 
And inventors who circled around the scrap heap long enough usually 
came up with inventions. He did not mention that his own staff 
routinely referred to his laboratory as “the dungyard.” 

This was enough to drive the university scientists to action. 
They formulated a scheme that began with bypassing the Navy and 
aiming straight for the topi Through the National Academy of Sciences 
they appealed to President Wilson. The academy they argued com- 
pellingly could provide “an arsenal of science” for the country. 

Soon the National Research Council, the ancestor of all 
subsequent research agencies, the fountainhead of science grants, was 
quietly formed. The NRC was to include leading scientists and 
engineers from universities, industry, and the government, with the 
goal of encouraging both basic and applied research. The second 
unerring move of the professors — which also set a precedent — was to 
establish headquarters in Washington, D.C., only blocks from the 
White House and Congressional purse strings. 

The value of a National Research Council to corporate Amer- 
ica was obvious. The group at once drew support from business and 
industry. A powerful pattern for the future had been delineated, the 
incestuous triumvirate of government, industry, and academe that 
would shape every aspect of American life in the twentieth century 
And, ironically it got started mainly as a tactic for circumventing “the 
old curmudgeon.” 

RADAR <— ► 212 

The government at once assigned the NRC the job and funds 
for discovering a way to detect marauding U-boats— the same job 
Edison’s board was already working on. An Allied mission was also 
formed, with French and American scientists both racing to invent 
submarine-listening devices. 

Tesla, his description of the future radar officially ignored, 
could not be bothered with such petty concerns as listening devices. 
Guided missiles and doomsday machines were more in his line. He 
gave the New York Times a provocative peek at his latest patent 
applications for a new device “like the thunderbolts of Thor,” capable, 
he said, of destroying whole fleets of enemy warships, not to mention 
armies. 4 “Dr. Tesla insists there is nothing sensational about it,” 
reported the Times, “that it is but the fruition of many years of work 
and study” 

He described the device as a missile that would zoom through 
the air at 300 miles per second, an unmanned craft with neither engine 
nor wings, sent by electricity to drop explosives at any point on the 
globe. Tesla said he had already constructed a wireless transmitter 
sufficiently powerful to perform this feat, but that it was not yet the time 
to disclose the details of his guided missile. 

Nor had he given up on his scheme for creating fleets of robot 
warships. Just the year before he had urged the government to “install 
along both of our ocean coasts, upon proper strategic and elevated 
points, numerous wireless controlling plants under the command of 
competent officers and that to each should be assigned a number of 
submarine, surface, and aerial craft From the shore stations these 
vessels . . . could be perfectly controlled at any distance at which they 
remained visible through powerful telescopes. ... If we were properly 
equipped with such devices of defense it is inconceivable that any 
battleship or other vessel of an enemy ever could get within the zone of 
action of these automatic craft . . .” 

Washington could not have been less interested. All ears, it 
seemed, were cupped to the rather primitive listening devices being 
produced by NRC scientists, multiple-tube arrangements with electri- 
cal amplifiers designed for the hulls of submarine-detecting craft 
These worked to a certain degree. Much later, when sonar was 
developed, the basic principles would be closer to Tesla’s unsung 
concept of radar, for it would detect the presence of subs, mines, and 
the like by means of inaudible, high-frequency vibrations reflected 
back to the sending device from the targets. 

RADAR <-» 213 

By the war's end Edison, like Tesla, was thoroughly disillu- 
sioned with what he deemed the blindness and lack of creativity of the 
defense bureaucracy. Of the many projects that he had proposed, not 
one had been approved by the Navy Department 

Long after World War I, and fifteen years after Tesla’s descrip- 
tion of radar had been published, both American and French teams 
were diligently working to develop such a system according to his 
principles. Lawrence H. Hyland and Leo Young, two young scientists 
in the Naval Research Laboratory, rediscovered the potential applica- 
tion of high-frequency beams of short pulses of energy, this time with 
both aircraft and surface shipping in mind. 

The military development of radar in America was to be 
impeded even further by interservice secrecy, but in time both the 
Army and Navy developed crude long-wave radar sets (one to two 
meters as opposed to microwaves). Meanwhile, in 1934, a French 
team under Dr. Emil Girardeau built and installed radar on both ships 
and land stations, using “precisely apparatuses conceived according to 
the principles stated by Tesla,” says the Frenchman. “On the subject of 
Tesla’s recommendation concerning the very great strength of the 
impulses,” he added, “one must also recognize how right he was?’; but 
the technology had been unavailable and “the most difficult thing was 
to succeed in enormously increasing the strength.” 5 

In America the first seagoing radar tests were made in 1937 on 
the USS Leary, an old destroyer of the Atlantic fleet and their success 
led to development of the model XAF. A later model was in service on 
nineteen ships by 1941 and made an excellent wartime record. 

Simultaneously an English team was struggling with this 
problem, for by now Hitler threatened England with invasion in World 
War II. The early pre-microwave radar installations used by the British 
Home Chain had very large antennae transmitting radio waves some 
10 meters in length. Even so, these primitive sets were credited with 
winning air battles. Finally a sufficiently powerful magnetron was built 
which became the basis of all the generators established for modem 
radar starting with the 1940’s. 

German scientists also developed a form of radar. It was thus 
an international achievement inspired by the mind of Tesla, although 
the English scientist Robert A. Watson-Watt was officially credited with 
the invention in 1935. 

The long race was won just in time to help save Britain from 
destruction by Nad bombers in the Battle of Britain. Radar became the 

RADAR <-» 214 

bade defensive tool of almost every country in the world. After the war 
it was eagerly employed by commercial airlines and shipping and 
would soon become essential to space exploration. 

Dr. Girardeau says that at the time Tesla was formulating his 
principles, “he was prophesying or dreaming, since he had at his 
disposal no means of carrying them out, but one must add that if he 
was dreaming, at least he was dreaming correctly.” 6 

At the time when his description of this invention appeared in 
print in 1917, Tesla was in Chicago. Broke but undefeated, he had 
again resolved to concentrate on developing his more practical 
inventions. Just before he left on this prosaic and arduous mission — 
painful for him, since it meant both dealing with engineers for a long 
period of time and being away from his friends — he was asked by one 
of his oldest admirers, B. A. Behrend, to accept what any other 
engineer in America would have deemed a high honor— the Edison 
Medal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers 

It was as if Behrend had opened one of those overhead hotel 
fire extinguishers and it had rained down vitriol instead of water. 

The Guest of Honor 

B. A. Behrend was an engineer of great distinction and was himself in 
line to receive the prized Edison Medal But he also felt keenly the 
injustices done to Tesla 

It was outrageous, he believed, that the man who had created 
die modem age of electric power, with all its blessings to people and 
industry towns and cities around the world, should now be struggling 
to keep a hotel roof over his head It was outrageous that he was being 
deprived of reward and honor for his invention of radio while others 
commercialized it; that he had received little credit for lighting inven- 
tions that were profiting others; that electrotherapeutics, adapted by 
more practical men from his high-frequency apparatus, was growing 
into a field of medical technology that seemed to benefit almost 
everyone but the inventor. And just the year before, Dr. Edwin 
Northrup had gone back for inspiration to the old ideas and circuits of 
Tesla to devise his first high-frequency furnace, a debt that he at least 
had graciously acknowledged Behrend the engineer enumerated to 
himself only the more prosaic of Tesla’s achievements and felt 

He quickly found that persuading the AIEE to confer the 
Edison Medal upon Tesla was easy compared to getting the inventor to 
accept it He did not want the Edison Medal. He would not receive it 

“Let us forget the whole matter, Mr. Behrend,” he said “I 
appreciate your good will and your friendship but I desire you to return 

to the committee and request it to make another selection It is 

nearly thirty years since I announced my rotating magnetic field and 
alternating-current system before the Institute. I do not need its honors 
and someone else may find it useful .” 1 

The old wounds, reopened, bled bitterness. How indeed could 
the AIEE have been so remiss? More than three-quarters of the 
members of the Institute probably owed their own jobs to Tesla’s 

Since the hostility between Edison and Tesla was well known, 
it probably had been assumed that he might feel a certain distaste for 


the medal’s name; but Behrend, knowing that the inventor both 
needed and deserved such acclaim at this period, insisted. 

That brought down the rain of add. 

“You propose,” said Tesla, “to honor me with a medal which I 
could pin upon my coat and strut for a vain hour before the members 
and guests of your Institute. You would bestow an outward semblance 
of honoring me but you would decorate my body and continue to let 
starve, for failure to supply recognition, my mind and its creative 
products which have supplied the foundation upon which the major 
portion of your Institute exists.” 2 

It was rare for Tesla to reveal personal feelings toward Edison 
but now he pulled no punches. “And when you would go through the 
vacuous pantomime of honoring Tesla you would not be honoring 
Tesla but Edison who has previously shared unearned glory from 
every previous recipient of this medal.” 

Behrend, however, refused to let the matter rest there. After 
several visits to Tesla’s office, he persuaded him to accept the honor. 

Tesla passed the Engineers? Club almost daily, but no longer 
went inside. The building stood, as it still does, directly across from 
Bryant Park, the rectangle of sooty grass and listless trees behind the 
public library where he went each day to feed his pigeons. Many 
engineers observed the strange tall figure, less magnificently dressed 
than in his prime yet still erect and proud, as he entered the park to be 
greeted by swirls of birds. Pigeons even then were considered socially 
unmeritorious. Their hunger seemed to touch only people who were, 
like them, in need. Pigeons appealed to quirky lonely, unreliable, 
usually poor, and eccentric persons. Important engineers did not hang 
about in city parks feeding dirty birds. 

Journalists too had noticed Tesla on his avian missionary work. 
Going home after midnight a reporter might find him standing in the 
darkness, lost in thought, with a bird or two taking food from his hands 
or lips, even though it was well-known that birds were blind at night 
and preferred to be in their roosts. At such times Tesla was apt to make 
it clear to the reporters that he did not care to talk with them. Later two 
of them would find out why. 

Another journalist told of meeting him wandering about in 
Grand Central Station. When asked if he had a train to catch, he 
replied, “No, this is where I do my thinking.” 

On the night of the Edison Medal presentation ceremony, a 
banquet was held in the Engineers? Club. Afterward the members and 
guests were to reconvene across the alley in the United Engineering 
Societies building on 39th Street for speeches 


It was a splendid white-tie affair. The guest of honor was 
impeccable, the radiance of his personality shining forth as forcefully 
as in his youth. All eyes followed his tall, charismatic presence. Yet 
somehow between the banquet hall and the nearby auditorium, he 

How such a flagpole figure managed to disappear, Behiend 
could not for the life of him understand. The committee was in a 
dither, and a search was begun for the guest of honor. Waiters peered 
into rest rooms. Behrend, thinking Tesla might have become ill, rushed 
into the street to take a taxi to Tesla’s hotel, the St. Regis. But following 
an impulse, he found his steps turning instead toward Bryant Park. 

Making his way through the gathering dusk, Behrend reached 
the entrance to the park, only to find it blocked by a group of strollers 
watching something in the shadows. Behrend edged his way in, and 
there stood Tesla festooned from head to toe in pigeons. They perched 
upon his head, pecked feed from his hands, and covered his arms, 
while a living, gurgling carpet of birds swarmed over his black evening 
pumps. The inventor spotted Behrend and cautiously raised a finger to 
his lips, disengaging feathered friends in the process. 

Finally, while Behrend stood anxiously by, Tesla dusted feath- 
ers from his finery and consented to be led back into the hall to receive 
his tribute. 

Behrend’s formal testimonial to his old friend was eloquent 
and sincere: 

“Were we to seize and eliminate from our industrial world the 
results of Mr. Tesla’s work,” he reminded his colleagues, “the wheels of 
industry would cease to turn, our electric cars and trains would stop, 
our towns would be dark, our mills would be dead and idle. Yes, so far 
reaching is his work that it has become the warp and woof of 
industry ... His name marks an epoch in the advance of electrical 
science. From that work has sprung a revolution. . . .” 

He closed by paraphrasing Pope’s lines on Newton: 

“Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night; 

God said, Let Tesla be, and all was light ” 3 

The guest of honor found himself wanning to the assemblage. 
He was after all human, and it was right and proper that these words 
should be spoken. He was pleased when W. W. Rice, Jr., president of 
the AIEE, reminded the audience of the scientific progress that had 
flowed from Tesla’s research in oscillating currents. 

“From his work followed the great work of Roentgen, who 
discovered the Roentgen rays,” said Rice, “and all that work which has 
been carried on throughout the world in following years by J J 


Thomson and others, which has really led to the conception of modem 
physics. His work . . . antedated that of Marconi and formed the basis 
of wireless telegraphy . . . and so on throughout all branches of science 
and engineering we find . . important evidence of what Tesla has 
contributed. . . .” 4 

The guest of honor rose at last with applause in his ears and 
found within him the power to speak graciously of Thomas Edison. He 
recalled his first meeting with “this wonderful man, who had had no 
theoretical training at all, no advantages, who did all himself, getting 
great results by virtue of his industry and application. . . 

Moving on he spoke rather longer than the engineers had 
expected, describing his childhood and later life, telling humorous 
anecdotes, and revealingly explaining “why I have preferred my work 
to the attainment of worldly rewards. . . .” Tesla said that he was deeply 
religious, although not in the orthodox meaning of the word, and gave 
himself “to the constant enjoyment of believing that the greatest 
mysteries of our being are still to be fathomed and that, all the 
evidence of the senses and the teachings of exact and dry sciences to 
the contrary notwithstanding, death itself may not be the termination 
of the wonderful metamorphoses we witness. 

“I have managed to maintain an undisturbed peace of mind, to 
make myself proof against adversity, and to achieve contentment and 
happiness to a point of extracting some satisfaction even from the 
darker side of life, the trials and tribulations of existence. I have fame 
and untold wealth, more than this, and yet— how many articles have 
been written in which I was declared to be an impractical unsuccessful 
man, and how many poor, struggling writers, have called me a 
visionary. Such is the folly and shortsightedness of the world! . . ” 6 

Some years later Dragislav Petkovic, visiting from Yugoslavia, 
would walk with the inventor to Bryant Park on his daily mission of 
mercy and hear a revealing comment 

“Mr. Tesla looked up at the [library] windows, which are 
fenced with the iron bars, that some pigeons did not fall down 
somewhere and got freezed,” he recalled. “In one comer he spotted 
one which was halfway frozen. He told me to stay here and watch that 
the cat does not come to get him while he look up for others. While I 
was watching, I tried to reach the pigeon, but could not do it because 
the bars were so close to one another. When Mt Tesla returned, he 
quickly bended and pull him out 

“ ‘All things from childhood are still dear to me,’” he told 


Petkovic, as he began to pat the almost frozen pigeon, assuring it that it 
would recover. 

“Then,” said Petkovic, “he took the package from my hand 
and started throwing the food all around in front of the library. When 
he distributed the food he told me: ‘These are my sincere friends.’ 7 

With the business of the Edison Medal over, Tesla entrained for 
Chicago and devoted the remainder of the year to efforts to develop a 
variety of inventions— not only in America but in Canada and Mexico. 
Thus he hoped to make up for his wartime losses of European 
royalties. 8 The previous year a trial balance of the Nikola Tesla 
Company had shown capital stock worth $500,000, laboratory ex- 
penses of $45,000 and patent expenses of $18,938. Scherff, preparing 
his tax returns on a weekend, reminded the inventor that the 
government could now fine him $10,000 for failure to file. If there was 
a net profit that year, Scherff failed to mention it in his letter 9 

From his headquarters at the Blackstone Hotel, Tesla went to 
work, offering not merely his inventions but himself as a consultant A 
major offering was his bladeless fluid turbo-generator for lighting 
systems, small, simple, and unusually efficient, as the prospectus 
stated, an apparatus of “overwhelming superiority.” 

He had licensed his automobile speedometer to the Waltham 
Watch Company, only to see auto manufacturing halted by the war. 
Nevertheless during 1917 he had an income of $17,000 in speedome- 
ter and locomotive-headlight royalties. 

He struggled over a report for the National Committee for 
Aeronautics, hoping to supply the government with a small aircraft 
motor one-fifth the weight of the Liberty motor then used. An 
exchange of correspondence with NACA (the predecessor of NASA) 
failed to result in a contract 

To Scherff, when he could spare a few moments from arduous 
days, he scribbled that his research on a new wireless transmitter that 
would render messages absolutely secret “will secure for the U.S. an 
overwhelming advantage in the great conflict as well as in peace. . . ” 10 
At the same time he was promoting the Tesla Nitrates Company, the 
Tesla Electro Therapeutic Company, and the Tesla Propulsion Com- 
pany The former, based on an electrical process for making fertilizer 
from nitrates (nitric acid) captured from the air (which he had alluded 
to in the Century magazine article of 1900) proved to be economically 


Determined to escape from debt, he also maintained at long 
distance a laboratory for turbine work at Bridgeport, Connecticut 
There he had contracted as well with the American & British Manufac- 
turing Company to erect two wireless stations. Unfortunately these 
Wardenclyffe-type enterprises failed for lack of adequate capital. 

No one could any longer claim that Tesla was not commer- 
cializing. He made money on some of these enterprises — not spec- 
tacular amounts but enough to begin paying off his debts to Scherff 
and to keep a staff 

To Johnson, now harried by creditors, he wrote: “Write your 
splendid poetry in serenity I will do away with all your worries. Your 
talent cannot be turned into money, thanks to the lack of discernment 
of the people of this country but mine is one that can be turned into 
carloads erf gold. I am doing this now.” 11 

Johnson became ill. He wrote to remind Tesla of an old debt of 
$2,000, and the inventor at once sent a check for $500. Two weeks 
later Robert again wrote that he needed funds, this time for taxes, and 
Tesla sent another $500. Before the year was out Robert sent an SOS 
saying that he had only $19.41 in his bank account, with outstanding 
debts of $1,500. Once again Tesla reached for his checkbook. 12 

In his desk in New York lay a letter, some years old, from 
Katharine Johnson, one of the last that was kept, or perhaps written, 
by her to her “ever silent friend.” She had gone to Maine without her 
children or husband for part of the summer. 

“I came here a month ago, quite alone,” she wrote, “to this 
hotel full, but empty for me, since it is a strange world. Here, I am as 
detached as if nothing belonged to me but memory. At times I am filled 
with sadness and long for that which is not— just as intensely as I did 
when a young girl and I listened to the waves of the sea, which is still 
unknown, and still beating about me. And you? What are you doing? I 
wish I could have news of you my ever dear and ever silent friend, be it 
good or bad. But if you will not send me a line, then send me a 
thought and it will be received by a finely attuned instrument 

“I do not know why I am so sad, but I feel as if everything in fife 
had slipped from me. Perhaps I am too much alone and only need 
companionship. I think I would be happier if I knew something about 
you. You, who are unconscious of everything but your work and who 
have no human needs. This is not what I want to say and so I am 
Faithfully yours, KJ.” 13 


She added a postscript “Do you remember the gold dollar 
that passed between you and Robert? I am wearing it this summer as a 
talisman for all of us.” 

Money? Good fortune? A return to the happiness and excite- 
ment of earlier days? Would it be a talisman for the trio that had shared 
so much 9 


People speak of decades as if they form natural endings, when in fact 
they seldom end anything cleanly. Human survivors are dragged into 
new slices of time with which they feel no harmony and in which they 
are often exposed to rasping change. So it was for Tesla in the Roaring 

The twenties brought the hypocrisy of Prohibition. A dignified 
man could no longer walk into his favorite bar and order a drink, but 
was instead forced to resort to illegal rotgut, bathtub gin, or worse. 
Speakeasies and gangsters flourished. Flaming Youth and bead- 
twirling flappers danced the nights away to the Charleston; the stock 
market alternately soared and dived, while speculators made and lost 
fortunes. James J. Walker, the Whoopee Mayor of New York, was one 
of those attuned to the times. Nikola Tesla, Victorian in manner and 
appearance, was not. He was, if anything, more estranged than ever 
from the world about him. 

Hobson, who had been a Congressman and was soon to be 
honored with the Congressional Medal (carrying the rank of rear 
admiral) for his courage during the Spanish-American War, had lost 
his recent bid for the U.S. Senate. But he had not lost — to Tesla’s 
intense regret — his campaign against drink and had been instrumental 
in obtaining passage of the Eighteenth Amendment To Tesla Prohibi- 
tion constituted an intolerable bureaucratic invasion of personal liberty 
He freely expressed his opinion that it would shorten lives, including 
his own. He no longer could foresee living until the age of 140. 
Without the divine ambrosia in modest but regular amounts, who 
would care to? 

Yet when the Hobson family returned to Manhattan to live, 
Tesla was well enough pleased that he and the sometime hero could 
be close again. Hobson took up the reins of other worthy campaigns, 
including leadership of an international commission on narcotics, but 
he always found time for his old friend. He began the habit of hunting 
Tesla up in his hotel once a month to attend a movie matinee. It was a 


PIGEONS <— > 223 

curiously frivolous diversion for such a distinguished pair. They would 
emerge from stale darkness into the glare and clangor of a Times 
Square afternoon and move off to a favorite park bench. There they 
would talk of world politics and science, or reminisce about old times. 

Now in his mid-sixties, Tesla was almost always hard up. At 
times strange illnesses troubled him. The businesses he had worked so 
hard to build up in Chicago were dwindling away. Wardenclyffe was 
no more than a sad memory, yet he never ceased to strive for the 
development of his world wireless system. In 1920 he again ap- 
proached Westinghouse executives with a wireless proposal. Their 
rejection brought from him a tart reminder that, at the time of obtaining 
rights to his alternating-current system, the directors had promised him 
that “nothing will be turned down that you may put before the 
Westinghouse Company” He had relied upon their assurance, he said, 
“knowing that men of that stature usually feel a sense of obligation to 
the pioneer who lays the foundations to their successful business. . . .” 1 

He found the firm’s attitude doubly frustrating because they 
were in fact now entering the wireless field, and Tesla had heard that 
they planned to put up a broadcasting system. “In the first place I was 
astonished and keenly disappointed,” he wrote, “that the matter 
should have been put before your engineers. ... I would never submit 
anything to them except complete plans, thoroughly worked out in 
every detail. . . .” Westinghouse officials responded by offering him a 
temporary consulting job. 

The following year Westinghouse inadvertently insulted him 
by writing that they had begun operation of a Radio-phone Broadcast- 
ing System at Newark, New Jersey, presenting news broadcasts, 
concerts, and crop and market reports; and inviting him as a guest to 
speak to their “invisible audience.” 2 Haughtily he reminded them that 
he had long worked to develop a broadcasting system to encompass 
the globe: “I prefer to wait until my project is completed before 
addressing an invisible audience and beg you to excuse me.” 3 

At the same time, however, he again offered Westinghouse the 
designs of his “commercially superior turbine,” which he assured them 
would save the firm millions of dollars. But he warned that there could 
be no strings. He could produce the turbines at once but would not 
consent to agree to “any experimenting whatever.” 4 The response was 
tiresomely familiar. Board chairman Guy E Tripp wrote that they could 
not enter such an agreement because their engineers were negative on 
the subject, “and of course we must be guided by the opinion of our 
Engineers.” 5 

PIGEONS <— > 224 

Two special friends entered Tesla’s life in this period, a sculptor 
and a writer, whose respective talents would help to preserve his name 
and achievements from the obscurity that could befall even a famous 
person who had neither heirs nor a corporate identity to prod the 
public’s memory. The nineteen-year-old science writer, Kenneth M. 
Swezey, arrived on the scene to join the ranks of the inventor’s 
permanent coterie; and the Yugoslav sculptor, Ivan Mestrovic, middle- 
aged and already famous in Europe, came to New York to introduce 
his work to America. 

Tesla and the sculptor cherished common memories of their 
childhoods in the mountains of Yugoslavia. Both were poets at heart 
They met often in New York, talking about anything and everything. 
Both worked late into the night and had a similar problem. Mestrovic 
was forced to wrangle his hunks of marble from one hotel to another 
for lack of a studio; Tesla, to his great sadness, could no longer afford a 
laboratory. So they took long walks together, discussed Balkan affairs, 
their work, and shared their pleasure in reciting Serbian poetry. Along 
the way Mestrovic was introduced to the daily routine of feeding the 
pigeons of Manhattan. 

Long after the sculptor had returned to Split, Tesla at the 
urging of Robert Johnson wrote and asked him to do a bust of himself. 
He could not go to Europe however; and Mestrovic was unable to 
return to America. Nevertheless, the latter wrote back, saying that he 
remembered the inventor so well that, if Tesla would send a photo- 
graph, he would undertake the job. 6 Tesla replied that he had no 
money; Mestrovic answered that none was needed. Good as his word, 
he sculpted and cast in bronze a powerful and sensitive likeness (now 
to be seen at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade) that transcended the 
miles, the years, and mere realism to capture the brooding essence of 

As for young Swezey, on meeting the inventor for the first time 
in 1929, he was surprised to discover (as he wrote) “a tall skinny man 
of upright posture” who might go about for hours in a daze of 
concentration, but who also had a side intensely human and “almost 
painfully sensitive with fellow-feeling for everything that lives.” 7 

Swezey himself, residing in a bleak apartment in Brooklyn, had 
few close ties to family or friends. He became both a journalistic 
champion of the scientist and a devoted admirer. The old man and the 

*A duplicate was also cast in bronze on Mestrovic’s order, which may be seen at the 
Technical Museum in Vienna. It was unveiled June 29, 1952, by Tesla’s nephew, 
Sava Kosanovic. 


younger were often together. Although Tesla worked hard while others 
slept, he also knew how to refresh himself with long rambles through 
the city. Swezey often joined him on these nocturnal excursions. 

He too was introduced to the pigeons. One evening as they 
were walking down Broadway, with Tesla discoursing intensely on his 
system for sending electrical power wirelessly to the ends of the Earth, 
the inventor suddenly lowered his voice. “However, what I am anxious 
about at this moment,” he said, “is a little sick bird I left up in my room. 
It worries me more than all my wireless problems put together” 

The pigeon, which he had picked up two days before in front 
of the library, had a crossed beak which had started a cancerous 
growth on its tongue so that it could not eat Tesla had saved it from 
slow death and said that with patient treatment it would soon become 
strong and well. 

But not all of the birds he saved could be fitted into his hotel 
room, where the servants already complained of dirt “In a large cage 
in a bird shop,” wrote Swezey, “are several dozen more pigeons. . . . 
Some had wing diseases, others broken legs. At least one was cured of 
gangrene, which the bird specialist pronounced incurable. If a pigeon 
is afflicted with something that Tesla has not the facilities to treat, it is 
put under the care of a competent physician.” 

He and Swezey, as they walked, talked of Einstein, diet 
exercise, fashion, marriage. “Tesla’s only marriage has been to his 
work and to the world,” wrote the young man, “as was Newton’s and 
Michelangelo’s ... to a peculiar universality of thought He believes, as 
Sir Francis Bacon did, that the most enduring works of achievement 
have come from childless men. . . ,” 8 

The inventor confided to his young companion that mental 
anguish, fire, commercial opposition, and other trials had merely 
fanned his productiveness and that he still felt he could rise highest in 
the face of great resistance. He also said that he had earned in his 
lifetime over $2 million. Yet for him to have earned this sum he 
probably would have to have received the legendary $1 million for his 
alternating-current patents from Westinghouse.* 

Because so many strange interpretations have been made of 
Tesla’s devotion to pigeons, the following letter from Tesla to Pola 
Fotic, the young daughter of Konstantin Fbtic, Yugoslavian ambas- 
sador to the United States, is cited for its simple portrayal of love for 
the creatures of his childhood. Entitled, “A Story of Youth Told by 
*Much later, after the inventor’s death, Swezey made a careful effort to verify this story 
by examining the Westinghouse archives. He could find nothing to support it 

PIGEONS <— » 226 

Age,” he describes the winter isolation of the house where he was 
bom, and of his special friend, “the magnificent Macak, the finest of all 
cats in the world.” 9 

It was in connection with Macak that his first intimation of 
electricity came to him one snowy evening when he was three years of 
age. “People walking in the snow left a luminous trail behind them,” 
he wrote, “and a snowball thrown against an obstacle gave a flare of 
light like a loaf of sugar hit with a knife. . . .” Even at that early age his 
vision was hyperreceptive to light Footprints in the snow were not in 
muted shades of blue, purple, or black as they might seem to others. 

“I felt impelled to stroke Macak’s back. What I saw was a 
miracle which made me speechless. . . . Macak’s back was a sheet of 
light, and my hand produced a shower of crackling sparks loud 
enough to be heard all over the place.” 

His father told him this was caused by electricity His mother 
said to stop playing with the cat lest he start a fire. But the child was 
thinking abstractly. 

“Is nature a gigantic cat? If so who strokes its back? It can only 
be God, I concluded.” 

Later, as darkness filled the room, Macak shook his paws as 
though he were walking on wet ground, and the boy distinctly saw the 
furry body surrounded by a halo like the aura of saints. Day after day 
he asked himself what electricity could be, and found no answer. At 
the time of writing this letter, eighty years had gone by, and Tesla said 
that he still had no answer. 

In contrast to the cat’s delightful company was the family 
gander — “a monstrous ugly brute, with a neck of an ostrich, mouth of 
a crocodile and a pair of cunning eyes radiating intelligence and 
understanding like the human.” In old age Tesla claimed to have a scar 
inflicted by the monstrous bird. But the other creatures on the farm he 

“I liked to feed our pigeons, chickens, and other fowl, take one 
or the other under my arm and hug and pet it” And even the vicious 
gander, when it brought its flock home at night after “sporting like 
swans?’ in a meadow brook, “was a joy and inspiration to me.” Now, in 
New York, as he withdrew more and more from a frenzied age and 
from people with whom he felt little harmony, his fondness for pigeons 
took on a strange intensity. 

He became alarmingly ill in his office on 40th Street one day in 
1921 and, as usual, refused to see a doctor. When it became apparent 
that he might be unable to return to his apartment at the St Regis 

PIGEONS <— > 227 

Hotel, he whispered to his secretary to telephone the hotel, speak with 
the housekeeper on the fourteenth floor, and tell her to feed the 
pigeon in his room — ”the white pigeon with touches of gray in her 
wings.” 10 He insisted that the secretary repeat this urgent message after 
him. The housekeeper was to continue feeding the pigeon each day 
until further notice. She would find plenty of feed in the room. 

Whenever in the past the inventor had been unable to visit 
Bryant Park with the feed, he had hired a Western Union messenger to 
take care of the errand for him. The white pigeon, it was apparent, was 
special to him. From his attitude, his secretaries thought he might be 

He recovered, and the matter was forgotten — until another 
day, when he telephoned his secretary to say the pigeon was very ill 
and that he could not leave the hotel. Miss Skerritt recalled that he 
spent several days at home. When the pigeon had recovered, he 
resumed his usual routine of working, walking, thinking, and feeding 
the birds. 

About a year later, however, he arrived at his office looking 
shaken and distraught. In his arm he carried a tiny bundle. He 
summoned Julius Czito, who lived in the suburbs, and asked if he 
would bury the dead pigeon on his property where the grave could be 
properly cared for. But scarcely had the machinist returned home on 
this curious mission than he received a phone call from Tesla, who had 
changed his mind. 

“Bring her back, please,” he said, “I have made other 
arrangements.” How he finally disposed of her, his staff never knew. 

Three years later Tesla was completely broke and his bill at the 
St Regis Hotel had gone unpaid for a long time. One afternoon a 
deputy sheriff arrived at his office and began seizing his furnishings to 
satisfy a judgment against them. Tesla managed to persuade the officer 
to grant him an extension. When he had gone, there remained the 
matter of his secretaries, who had received no salaries in more than 
two weeks. All that was left in his Mother Hubbard’s cupboard of a safe 
was the gold Edison Medal, which he now removed. It was worth 
about one hundred dollars, he said to the embarrassed young women. 
He would have it cut in two and give half to each. 

Dorothy Skerritt and Muriel Arbus declined in one voice. They 
offered instead to share with him the small sums-of money in their own 
purses. 11 When Tesla was able to pay them a few weeks later, he 
placed an additional two week£ salary in each envelope. Yet on the 
day when he had offered to divide up the Edison Medal, there had in 

PIGEONS <— > 228 

fact been a little money in the office — $5 in petty cash. But this he 
claimed at once for his pigeons, saying he was out of bird seed. He had 
asked one of his secretaries to go out and buy a fresh supply. 

With the help of Czito, to whom he also owed a substantial 
amount of money, he then moved all his office belongings into a new 
office building. The next blow fell shortly afterward when he was asked 
to vacate the St Regis Hotel, in part because of his pigeon friends. At 
one point Tesla had put some of the birds into a hamper and sent them 
home with patient George Scherff, thinking that a spell in Connecticut 
might do them good. But alas, so fond were they of their old friend 
and of their risky old haunts that they were back on his window ledge 
in time for dinner. 

Sadly he packed up his possessions of decades and moved to 
the Hotel Pennsylvania. The pigeons followed. After another few 
years, he and they would be forced to move on to the Hotel Governor 
Clinton. Nikola and his birds were to spend the final decade of his life 
in the Hotel New Yorker. 

The strange tale of the white pigeon was told by the inventor to 
O’Neill and William L. Laurence, science writer for the New York 
Times, one day while the three sat in the Hotel New Yorker lobby. John 
O’Neill, a member of a psychic society, saw mystic symbolism in Tesla’s 
white pigeon. He and other psychics who have written about the 
inventor preferred to speak of the pigeon as a dove. Although pigeons 
are technically rock doves, only the most meticulous birdwatchers ever 
call them that and Tesla never called his pigeon anything but a pigeoa 
But what he told the two journalists in the hotel lobby says his early 
biographer, was the dove love-story of his life. 

“I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them, for years,” 
he said. “Thousands of them, for who can tell — . 

“But there was one pigeon, a beautiful bird, pure white with 
light gray tips on its wings; that one was different It was a female. 1 
would know that pigeon anywhere. 

“No matter where I was that pigeon would find me; when 1 
wanted her I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying 
to me. She understood me and I understood her. 

“I loved that pigeon. 

“Yes, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. 
When she was ill I knew, and understood; she came to my room and I 
stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon 
was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long 
as I had her, there was a purpose in my life. 

PIGEONS <-» 229 

“Then one night as I was lying in my bed in the dark, solving 
problems, as usual, she flew in through the open window and stood on 
my desk. I knew she wanted me; she wanted to tell me something 
important so I got up and went to her. 

“As I looked at her I knew she wanted to tell me— she was 
dying. And then, as I got her message, there came a light from her 
eyes— powerful beams of light” 

Tesla paused and then, as if in response to an unasked 
question from the science writers, continued. 

“Yes, it was a real light, a powerful, dazzling, blinding light a 
light more intense than I had ever produced by the most powerful 
lamps in my laboratory. 

“When that pigeon died, something went out of my life. Up to 
that time I knew with a certainty that I would complete my work, no 
matter how ambitious my program, but when that something went out 
of my life I knew my life’s work was finished. 

“Yes, I have fed pigeons for years; I continue to feed them, 
thousands of them, for after all, who can tell — 

The writers left him in silence and walked several blocks along 
Seventh Avenue without speaking. 

O’Neill later concluded: “It is out of phenomena such as Tesla 
experienced when the dove flew out of the midnight darkness and into 
the blackness of his room and flooded it with blinding light, and the 
revelation that came to him out of the dazzling sun in the park at 
Budapest, that the mysteries of religion are built” Had Tesla not 
rigorously suppressed his mystical inheritance, he wrote, “he would 
have understood the symbolism of the Dove .” 12 

Dr. Jule Eisenbud, in an article for the Journal of the American 
Society for Psychical Research, has examined the bird symbolism in 
the inventor’s life in conjunction with his neuroses and his childhood 
relationship with his mother, to the extent that the latter is known. The 
bird is an age-old universal symbol of the mother and her nourishing 
breast says the psychologist. And it was significant that Tesla believed 
he could command his beautiful white pigeon to appear, wherever he 
was, with only his wish. “The meaning of this fantasy;” he asserts, “can 
be arrived at only when viewed in conjunction with the strong 
evidence from other biographical data that the unconscious need for, 
and for control of, the ‘disappearing’ mother had dominated Tesla 
throughout his life, accounting not only for many of his clinically 
peculiar habits, and much that was out of the ordinary in his 
relationship to people and things, but even for the private mythology 

PIGEONS <-» 230 

in terms of which he seems unconsciously to have conceived the 
powerful all-pervading force he devoted his life to capturing and 
harnessing .” 13 

Nothing in Tesla’s writings indicates to the lay person that he 
felt deprived by a “disappearing” mother. But Dr. Eisenbud sees in his 
life many signs of an emotionally and physically deprived infantile 
nursing period. Tesla consciously idealized his mother, insists Eisen- 
bud, yet he managed to stay clear of her, “and for most of his life was 
given to unfulfilled premonitions (all but the last unfulfilled, that is) of 
her death, her ultimate disappearance. This kind of ambivalence, the 
sort of thing seen frequently in persons who are known clinically as 
obsessional neurotics, which Tesla definitely was, marked all his 
relationships to and attitudes toward mother symbols and mother 

Thus, says Eisenbud, he could not tolerate smooth round 
surfaces, and pearls on a woman made him physically sick. He speaks 
of an obsessional patient of his own who, on his mother’s testimony, 
had gone into a deathlike depression when abruptly taken off the 
smooth round breast at the age of two weeks and in later life could not 
stand even the word sphere. 

Dr Eisenbud believes the inventor’s attitude toward money 
was also indicative of a deep-lying fantasy of having virtual control of 
this universal mother symbol at the source: 

“He gave away millions in gestures of great, if sometimes 
bizarre generosity, and was often broke as a result He was, however, 
apparently dominated by the comforting belief that fundamentally he 
was not dependent on fate or other people for his sustenance, and that 
money itself, a trivial and incidental aspect of the tedious mechanics of 
living, he could make in sufficient amounts whenever he needed it . . . 
The most extraordinary facet of Tesla’s never-ending game of control of 
the mother, however, was played out with food itself, where, unhap- 
pily, the negative side of his ambivalent attitude toward this most direct 
of all mother substitutes finally won out .. .” 14 

Hence, he says, the elaborate ceremony Tesla made of dining, 
arriving in evening clothes at the appointed hour, to be shown to his 
special table, the head waiter becoming an expensive mother surrog- 
ate “the symbolic control of whom is not infrequently striven for by 
those in the chips.” 

He remarks on the fact that one of Tesla’s favorite dishes was 
squab: “In a beautiful clinical example of biting the breast that didn’t 
feed him (the other side of the coin of his compulsive feeding of 

PIGEONS <-» 231 

pigeons) he would ... eat only the meat on either side of the 

As the wheel of his life came full circle, says Eisenbud, Tesla 
was reduced to living mostly on warm milk. Then it was that his 
beautiful white pigeon “gave forth her last dazzling, blinding beam of 
light— a symbol equated with the stream of milk from the breasts. . . -” 15 
Tesla’s lifetime of compensation and ersatz collapsed. Something went 
out of his life, and he knew that his work was finished. 

Behavioral theorists will argue with such Freudian/Jungian 
conclusions, however, tending to believe that specific traumatic inci- 
dents in Tesla’s childhood, leading to emotional repression accounted 
for his obsessional neuroses. 

Unfortunately a lack of conclusive data makes it impossible to 
do more than speculate. 


Katharine Johnson fell ill. Tesla showed his concern by prescribing for 
her a special diet, but the deeper illness from which she suffered, the 
sense that in the midst of life everything worthwhile had somehow 
slipped from her, deprived her of the will to recover. She lay in the 
house at 327 Lexington Avenue with the blinds drawn, remembering 
the parties, the celebrities, the gossip and reflected glory, the street 
crowded with arriving and departing hansom cabs and autos, the 
wonderful banquets presided over by Tesla at the Waldorf-Astoria, the 
thrill of his galvanic presence at her table, and how hard they had all 
worked to entrap wealthy patrons for him. She remembered the 
scintillating gatherings at his laboratory, the demonstrations, the excite- 
ment of his triumphal tours abroad. Her entire being seemed to have 
dissolved into a blur of memories. The life lived had not been hers; she 
did not know whose it had been. Her life had been a reflection only, of 
the risks and acts and triumphs of others. Now she felt a stranger to 
herself, stripped equally of hope and anger. She felt deluded, cheated, 
and infinitely weary 

During the time when she languished Tesla was brashly 
inspired to think about writing one of his more curious prophecies — on 
tiie future of women. It was a subject on which he gyrated and fussed 
and yet seemingly could not leave alone. The year before she was 
stricken, he had given an interview to a Detroit Free Press reporter on 
the “problem” of women. 1 With the glibness of any other male, he 
bemoaned their descent from the pedestals so thoughtfully built by 
men for their entrapment He had worshipped women all his life, he 
said — out of special deference, from afar. But now that they were 
matching their minds against men’s, venturing into open competition 
with God’s naturally appointed, was not “civilization itself in 
jeopardy”? The answer was a question that presumably went unasked 
by most Sunday supplement readers of the 1920’s: Whose civilization? 

Now, with Katharine’s illness preying on his thoughts, he 
turned the matter over relentlessly in his mind and finally gave another 
interview, this time to Colliers. 2 The article was threateningly entitled, 



“When Woman Is Boss,” and described a new sex order in which the 
female would emerge as intellectually superior. On the one hand he 
appeared to be all for it, but on the other, Med with trepidation. Had 
he understood the real waste of Katharine’s life? Whatever his 
motivation, he ended up ambivalently prophesying men and women 
into human beehives in a disturbingly mechanistic view of the Utopian 
“rational” society 

It was clear to any trained observer, he said, that a new attitude 
toward sexual equality had come over the world, receiving an abrupt 
stimulus just before the first World War. Naturally he could not foresee 
that in the wake of the second World War women would again 
backslide and relinquish much social and economic gain in a compul- 
sion to procreate. 

Few feminists would have quarreled with the first part of Tesla’s 
premise: “The struggle of the human female toward sex equality will 
end in a new sex order, with the female as superior. The modem 
woman, who anticipates in merely superficial phenomena the ad- 
vancement of her sex, is but a surface symptom of something deeper 
and more potent fermenting in the bosom of the race. 

“It is not in the shallow physical imitation of men that women 
will assert first their equality and later their superiority but in the 
awakening of the intellect of women. 

“Through countless generations, from the very beginning, the 
sodaT subservience of women resulted naturally in the partial atrophy 
or at least the hereditary suspension of mental qualities which we now 
know the female sex to be endowed with no less than men. 

“But the female mind has demonstrated a capadty for all the 
mental acquirements and achievements of men, and as generations 
ensue that capadty will be expanded; the average woman will be as 
well educated as the average man, and then better educated, for the 
dormant faculties of her brain will be stimulated to an activity that will 
be all the more intense and powerful because of centuries of repose. 
Women will ignore precedent and startle civilization with their 

But the ideal sodety that Tesla went on to describe, modeled 
on that of the hive — with “desexualized armies of workers whose sole 
aim and happiness in life is hard work” — could not have failed to chill 
his fellowmen and thinking women. 

“The acquisition of new fields of endeavor by women, their 
gradual usurpation of leadership,” he said, “will dull and finally 
dissipate feminine sensibilities, will choke the maternal instinct, so that 

rRANSUlONS <— » 234 

marriage and motherhood may become abhorrent and human civiliza- 
tion draw closer and closer to the perfect civilization of the bee. . . ” 3 
The perfect communal life of the bee was radical chic for the 
times, promising “socialized cooperative life wherein all things, includ- 
ing the young, are the property and concern of all.” 

But in the same freewheeling interview Tesla made uncannily 
farsighted technological predictions: “It is more than probable that the 
household’s daily newspaper will be printed ‘wirelessly’ in the home 
during the night The problem of parking automobiles and furnishing 
separate roads for commercial and pleasure traffic will be solved. 
Belted parking towers will arise in our large cities, and the roads will be 
multiplied through sheer necessity, or finally rendered unnecessary 
when civilization exchanges wheels for wings. 

“The world’s internal reservoirs of heat ... will be tapped for 
industrial purposes.” Solar heat would partially supply the needs of die 
home; wireless energy would supply the remainder, and small vest- 
pocket instruments, “amazingly ample compared with our present 
telephone,” would be used. “We shall be able to witness and hear 
events— the inauguration of a President, the playing of a World Series 
game, the havoc of an earthquake or the terror of a battle— just as 
though we were present” 

Katharine died in 1925. Not forgetting Tesla even at death, she 
charged Robert to keep in close touch with him always. 

Johnson and his daughter Agnes (the future Agnes Holden) 
tried thereafter to celebrate traditional family holidays. Tesla was 
always invited. They invited him on Katharine’s birthday Robert 
writing, “We will have music, the kind of occasion she would have 
desired. She cherished your friendship. She charged me not to lose 
sight of you. Without you it will not be her day.” 4 

But soon Robert was again asking for financial help — to pay 
taxes and a bank loan. Tesla, scraping along on a few royalties and 
consulting fees, was able to lend small sums. Although he had been ill 
again, he sent a cheerful note with his check: “Do not let those small 
troubles worry you. Just a little longer and you will be able to indulge 
in flights on your Pegasus.” 5 

Johnson thanked him and announced that he and Agnes were 
sailing for Europe for two months. On this trip he met a teenaged 
actress who was to gladden for a time his final years. 6 

In April of the following year Tesla sent Johnson an unsolicited 
$500 with a note: “Please do not let this remind you of vulgar 
creditors, but have a little celebration.” 7 Johnson replied that he was 


having a wall erected at Kate’s grave with half of it He reported that the 
“lovely Marguerite [Churchill]” was keeping him young and that he 
was eager for the inventor to meet her. 

Shortly afterward Johnson was hospitalized and from his bed 
wrote Tesla: “You must come and dine with Mrs. Churchill and 
Marguerite when 1 return.” He raved about the young actress, whom 
he now hoped to accompany to Europe, “with her mother, of course.” 8 
They would visit the homes and haunts of Tennyson, Keats, Shake- 
speare, Wordsworth. Instead, however, he went back to Europe with 
Agnes the following year and again in 1928, on both occasions with 
the aid of checks from the hard-pressed Tesla. 

Francis A. Fitzgerald, who had been a personal friend of Tesla’s 
since the development of Niagara Falls and who was with the Niagara 
Power Commission at Buffalo, tried to assist the inventor with one of 
his most cherished scientific concepts in 1927. He interceded with the 
Canadian Power Commission to finance a project to transmit power 
without wires. The venture was not carried out, but it planted in fire 
minds of some Canadians a seed that regenerates itself every few years 
down to the present writing in efforts to transmit hydroelectric power 
wirelessly and inexpensively through the Earth. 

For years it had been rumored that Tesla had invented a 
powerful beam, a death ray but he had been strangely uncommunica- 
tive on the subject In early 1924 a flurry of news reports from Europe 
claimed that a death ray had been invented there — first by an 
Englishman, then by a German, and then a Russian. Almost at once 
an American scientist Dr. T. F. Wall, applied fora patent on a death ray 
which he claimed would stop airplanes and cars. Then a newspaper in 
Colorado proudly retorted that Tesla had invented the first invisible 
death ray capable of stopping aircraft in flight while he had been 
experimenting there in 1899. 9 The inventor was unusually noncommit- 
tal on the matter. 

In 1929 when Scherff again filled out tax returns for the Nikola 
Tesla Company he told Tesla: “Unfortunately the Company had no 
tax to pay” In this respect he was at least in tune with die times, for 
now the Great Depression had begun. 

Tesla wrote another cheerful note to raise the spirits of his old 
friend Johnson, while yet admitting to his own “little financial fainting 
spells.” He said, “Of course I am not communicative with other friends. 
My prospects are better ... another very fine and valuable new 
invention.” If he were one of the new inventors who employed press 
agents, he said, “the whole world would be talking about it” 10 


In fact, however; his patent filings had at long last almost 
dwindled to a stop. He had filed a series of new patents in 1922 in fluid 
mechanics, which were not processed to completion. Thus they 
entered the common domain. One among them is believed to have 
particular significance. Filed March 22, 1922, it was entitled, “Improve- 
ments in Methods of and Apparatus for the Production of High 
Vacua.” * Years later, when both the United States and Russia entered 
the race to perfect modem death/disintegrator ray weapons, it would 
be one of his ideas studied with special interest 

This was the first group of patents that he had filed since 1916. 
But if anyone were to have taken this as evidence that Tesla’s creative 
life was drawing to a close, he would have been much mistaken. 

♦The others: Method of and Apparatus for Compressing Elastic Fluids; Method of and 
Apparatus for the Thermodynamic Transformation of Energy; Improvements in 
Methods of and Apparatus for Balancing Rotating Machine Farts; Improvements in 
Methods of and Apparatus for Deriving Motive Power from Steam; Improvements in 
Methods of and Apparatus for Economic Transformation of the Energy of Steam by 
Turbines; Improvements in Methods of Generation of Power by Elastic Fluid 
Turbines; Improvements in Apparatus for the Generation of Power by Elastic Fluid 

The Birthday Parties 

Bom at midnight, never sure which date to celebrate, Tesla usually had 
not observed his birthdays at all. They had simply slipped by, and as 
long as he felt well, their passage had gone unnoticed 

He took pride in the fact that his weight had not changed since 
college days. Legends were told about his catlike fitness. Walking 
down Fifth Avenue one icy winter day, he had lost his footing, hurled 
himself into a flying somersault, landed on his feet, and kept on 
walking. Bug-eyed pedestrians swore that they had never seen 
anything like it outside of a circus. 

But in old age he began to make up for the missed birthdays. 
Each anniversary became the occasion for a celebration with reporters 
and photographers. At these parties, to the delight of his young 
friends, he announced fantastic inventions and indulged in prophesy 
to his heart’s content Only sober Mr. Kaempffert, with the dignity of 
the Times to uphold, found such sessions grating. How they hung on 
the guru’s every word as he spun his visionary nonsense. And worst of 
all, how they pretended to understand ! 1 

A very special birthday party was arranged by Swezey for 
Tesla’s seventy-fifth anniversary. This shy young science writer was a 
person of few words — one who knew him remembers that he spoke 
almost cryptically— yet he was extraordinarily gifted in his ability to 
make science understandable to lay audiences by translating abstrac- 
tions into graphic images. He made party games of science and 
thought up puzzles and simple kitchen-table experiments that capti- 
vated children. He wrote a book, After-Dinner Science, that enjoyed a 
popular success, especially with the parents of school-aged children. 
He also wrote advanced articles for scientific magazines. 

Tesla was a hero to him. Swezey was, of course, more capable 
than the average person of appreciating the inventor’s importance in 
the perspective of the history of science, and like Behrend, he was 
troubled by the public’s short-mindedness. He resolved to do some- 
thing about it 



And so, for the inventor’s seventy-fifth birthday party in 1931, 
he asked famous scientists and engineers the world over to send some 
thing, and a flood of congratulatory letters and tributes to Tesla poured 
in. Among the authors were several Nobel laureates who acknowl- 
edged, with respect and gratitude, his inspiration to their own careers. 2 

Robert Millikan wrote of attending a Tesla lecture at the age of 
twenty-five, one of the first demonstrations of the Tesla coil. “Since 
then,” he wrote, “I have done no small fraction of my research work 
with the aid of the principles I learned that night so that it is not merely 
my congratulations that I am sending you but with them also my 
gratitude and my respect in overflowing measure.” 

Arthur H. Compton declared: “To men like yourself who have 
learned first hand the secrets of nature and who have shown us how 
her laws may be applied by solving our everyday problems, we of the 
younger generation owe a debt that cannot be paid. . . .” 

All the past presidents of the American Institute of Electrical 
Engineers sent tributes along with many leaders in the burgeoning 
field of modem radio. 

Lee DeForest wrote of his deep personal obligation to Tesla as 
scientist and inventor: “For no one so excited my youthful imagina- 
tion, stimulated my inventive ambition or served as an outstanding 
example of brilliant achievement in the field I was eager to enter, as did 
yourself. . . . Not only for the physical achievement of your researches 
on high frequencies which laid the basic foundations of the great 
industry of radio transmission in which I have labored, but for the 
incessant inspiration of your early writings and your example, do I owe 
you an especial debt of gratitude.” 

Dr. Behrend spoke of “the world’s usual ingratitude toward its 

“To those of us who have lived through the anxious and 
fascinating period of development of alternating-current power trans- 
mission,” he said, “there is not a scintilla of doubt that the name of 
Tesla is as great here as the name of Faraday is in the discovery of the 
phenomena underlying all electrical work.” 

Einstein, who seemed unaware of Tesla’s prodigious range of 
achievement, sent his felicitations but congratulated him only on his 
contributions to the field of high-frequency current 

Among Europeans who sent accolades were Dr. W. H. Bragg, 
co-winner of the controversial 1915 Nobel Prize in physics. From the 


Royal Society in London he wrote, alluding to the demonstrations 
made by Tesla in his lectures forty years earlier 

“I shall never forget the effect of your experiments which came 
first to dazzle and amaze us with their beauty and interest” 

Count von Arco, the German radio pioneer who with Prot 
Adolf Slaby had developed the Slaby-Arco system wrote: “If one reads 
your works today— at a time when radio ... has attained such a world 
significance — particularly your patents (practically all of which belong 
to the past century), one is again astonished at how many of your 
suggestions, often under another’s name, have later been realized. . . .” 
Swezey the catalyzer of this outpouring of tributes, added his 
own most eloquently Tesla’s genius, he said, had given startling 
impetus to the work of Roentgen and J. J. Thomson and those who 
followed them in the age of the electron. “Standing alone,” said the 
science writer, “he plunged into the unknown. He was an arch 
conspirator against the established order of things.” 

If these encomia seem immoderate, they pale beside the 
comments of famed science editor and publisher Hugo Gemsback: “If 
you mean the man who really invented, in other words, originated and 
discovered— not merely improved what had already been invented by 
others— then without a shade of doubt Nikola Tesla is the world’s 
greatest inventor, not only at present but in all history ... His basic as 
well as revolutionary discoveries, for sheer audacity have no equal in 
the annals of the intellectual world.” 

Alerted by Swezey to the birthday tributes, newspapers and 
magazines all over the world carried articles on Tesla. Time magazine’s 
cover story reported that its writers had some difficulty tracking the 
elusive inventor (“a tall ... eagle-headed man”) to his most recent 
aerie at the Hotel Governor Clinton. Interviewers regretted they could 
not see him as he used to be seen in his Colorado laboratory wrote 
Time, “strolling or sitting like a calm Mephistopheles amid blazing, 
thundering cascades of sparks. . . .” 3 

What they found instead was a Tesla emaciated and almost 
ghostlike but still alert His hair was slate gray, his overhanging 
eyebrows almost black. But the sparkle of his blue eyes and the 
shrillness of his voice indicated his psychic tension . 4 

When Swezey presented the inventor with the bound memo- 
rial volume, he found him surprised but scarcely overwhelmed. 
Although he merely said that he did not care for compliments horn 


people who all his life had opposed him, the young science writer felt 
that secretly Tesla was pleased by the many tributes. Indeed, later 
when Swezey tried to borrow them briefly (copies were sent to the new 
Tesla Institute at Belgrade), the old man was most reluctant to part with 

To interviewers Tesla had disclosed the ideas that currently 
preoccupied his thoughts. He was working on two things: one, 
conclusions that tended to disprove the Einstein Theory of General 
Relativity His explanations, Tesla said, were less involved than Ein- 
stein’s, and when he was ready to make a full announcement, it would 
be seen that he had proved his conclusions. 

Secondly, he was working to develop a new source of power. 
“When I say a new source, I mean that I have turned for power to a 
source [to] which no previous scientist has turned, to the best of my 
knowledge. The conception, the idea when it first burst upon me was a 
tremendous shock.” 5 

He said of this new source of power that it would throw light 
upon many puzzling phenomena of the cosmos. And in another 
enigmatic comment that puzzles Tesla scholars down to the present 
day he said it might prove of great industrial value “particularly in 
creating a new and virtually unlimited market for steel.” 6 

Questioned further, he would only say that such power would 
come from an entirely new and unsuspected source, that for all 
practical purposes it would be constant day and night and at all times 
of the year. The apparatus for manufacturing this energy and trans- 
forming it would be of ideal simplicity with both mechanical and 
electrical features. 

Tesla said the preliminary cost might be thought too high, but 
this would be overcome, for the installation would be both permanent 
and indestructible. “Let me say,” he emphasized, “that [it] has nothing 
to do with releasing so-called atomic energy There is no such energy 
in the sense usually meant With my currents, using pressures as high 
as 15 million volts, the highest ever used, I have split atoms but no 
energy was released. . . .” 

Pressed to reveal his new source of energy, he politely 
declined, but promised definitely to make a statement on the subject 
“in a few months, or a few years.” 

His eyes glowing beneath the black brows, he said that he had 
already conceived of a plan for transmitting energy in large amounts 
from one planet to another— absolutely regardless of distance. 

“I think that nothing can be more important than interplane- 
tary communication,” he said. “It will certainly come some day and 


the certitude that there are other human beings in the universe, 
working, suffering, struggling, like ourselves, will produce a magic 
effect on mankind and will build the foundation of a universal 
brotherhood that will last as long as humanity itself.” 

When? He was unsure. 

“I have been leading a secluded life, one of continuous, 
concentrated thought and deep meditation,” he replied. “Naturally 
enough I have accumulated a great number of ideas. The question is 
whether my physical powers will be adequate to working them out and 
giving them to the world. . . ” 7 

Also in the seventy-fifth year of his life, Everyday Science & 
Mechanics carried detailed designs of two of the inventor’s more 
down-to-earth proposals — a plan for extracting electricity from seawa- 
ter and another for a geothermal steam plant 8 

The geothermal steam plant was designed to draw upon the 
almost inexhaustible heat of the deep earth, with water circulating to 
the bottom of a shaft, returning as steam to drive a turbine, and then 
returned to liquid form in a condenser, in an unending cycle. Such 
ideas were not original with Tesla, having been speculated upon for at 
least seventy-five years, but he was among the first to draw up detailed 

His seawater power plant would utilize heat energy derived 
from the temperature differential between layers of ocean water to 
operate great power plants. He even went so far as to design a vessel 
to be propelled by energy derived from this source. 

But his research into the matter was at best preliminary He still 
had to overcome the same problems that earlier pioneers had 
experienced— great technological difficulties and costs far out of 
proportion to the greatest possible returns; yet he continued to work 
and improve the design, substituting for pipes hung in submarine 
abysses a sloping tunnel lined with heat-insulating cement His 
associates, he said, had made studies in the Gulf of Mexico and Cuban 
waters where temperature contrast would be adequate. 

Tesla explored several variations — one that operated without 
storage batteries; one that operated without water pumps — but he was 
still unsatisfied with his seawater plants, finding their performance too 
small to be competitive with other sources. Undaunted, he continued 
to predict that the technical problems were soluble and that one day 
such plants would be major producers of power. 

Tesla did not live to see such a plant built, except in his mind. 
But in the 1980’s the federal government has authorized a crash 
program of research on Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) 


plants in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and wherever 
temperature contrasts are adequate. A small army of university 
scientists appear to be employed on these joint ventures of govern- 
ment and private utilities. 

Professor Warren Rice of Arizona State University, an authority 
on Tesla’s work in turbines and fluid mechanics, has analyzed his 
anticipation of OTEC ideas and of geothermal energy recovery and 
finds them “thermodynamically sound.” But he adds that he, person- 
ally is pessimistic about the economic feasibility and practicality of 
OTEC and of terrestrial energy recovery on a large scale. “I hope that I 
am wrong,” he adds. 9 

In his old age Tesla was gratified to hear his invention of 
electrical oscillation devices for medical therapy receive high ac- 
colades. At the American Congress of Physical Therapy in New York 
on September 6, 1932, Dr. Gustave Kolischer of Mount Sinai Hospital 
and Michael Reese Hospital, Chicago, announced that high-frequency 
electrical currents were bringing about “highly beneficial results in 
dealing with cancer, surpassing anything that could be accomplished 
with ordinary surgery 10 

Modem cancer treatment has, of course, progressed even 
farther and the full medical implications of Tesla’s techniques are still 
being explored. Most recently, in the 1980’s, the American Association 
for the Advancement of Science announced promising research in the 
electromagnetic stimulation of cells for the regeneration of amputated 
limbs. And studies at various universities have also indicated that 
pulsed current is superior to direct current in the healing of fractures. 

As is typical of so many of Tesla’s inventions, scholars still do 
not know the whole range of their possible applications or, in some 
cases, even their full theoretical significance. 

Corks on Water 

George Sylvester Viereck was a German immigrant, the child of an 
illegitimate offspring of the House of Hohenzollem. He came to 
America in his youth, stirred the avant-garde with his precociously 
brilliant poetry, and became a controversial figure in politics and 
journalism. Intellectuals considered him a genius. But as his interviews 
with the rising stars of fascism, Hitler and Mussolini, betrayed his strong 
partiality for dictators, the poet’s reputation was damaged, much as 
Ezra Pound’s would be a few years later. The issue came to a head 
during World War II when Viereck was imprisoned for disseminating 
pro-Nazi propaganda. 

He and Tesla became friends between the wars, the inventor 
as usual being politically uncritical. They often corresponded and met 
socially in New York. Viereck wrote insightful articles about Tesla, and 
the two exchanged their own poetry The German’s tenuous claim to 
royalty and his literary talent may have appealed equally to Tesla, who 
addressed some of his most revealing correspondence to this new 

The only sample extant of the inventor’s own poetry, called 
“Fragments of Olympian Gossip,” and written in his distinctive hand, 
was dedicated to Viereck, “my Friend and Incomparable Poet,” on 
December 31, 1934. Tesla was then seventy-eight years of age. The 
poem begins, “While listening to my cosmic phone/ 1 caught words 
from the Olympus blown,” which gives a fair indication of its literary 
merit It is a crotchety work, but not without humor and occasional 
nice turns of phrase. 

On April 7 Tesla wrote to Viereck, urging him to stop taking the 
“poison” of opium tincture, lest it make his precious brain sluggish. It 
appears that Viereck also was seeking escape from financial anxieties, 
for Tesla added: “It is too bad that the greatest poet of America is no 
better situated than a struggling inventor. How about writing a little 
article on Spiritism and drawing on my experience as told in a letter to 
you? The spiritists are so crazy that they will claim I got the message all 
right but as a crass materialist I was prejudiced. . . ,” 1 


CORKS ON WATER <— » 244 

He added a P.S. that his admiration for Viereck was so great 
that his handwriting had even begun to resemble the poet’s. 

In December he wrote a long, strange letter to Viereck going 
back over the death of his brother Daniel so long ago, and the death of 
his mother. He attempted to explain away his precognition and 
discussed his affliction with partial amnesia. The letter was written as if 
from different time frames, without transitions, and with confusing 
errors as to Daniel’s age when he died and the date of his mother’s 
death. It is almost as though Tesla were describing dreams rather than 

He spoke of periods of tortured concentration driving him to 
fear a blood clot or atrophy of the brain, and of how he struggled to 
“drive out of the mind the old images which are like corks on the water 
bobbing up after each submersion. But after days, weeks or months of 
desperate cerebration I finally succeed in filling my head chuckfull with 
the new subject, excluding everything else, and when I reach that state 
I am not far from the goal. My ideas are always rational because I am 
an exceptionally accurate instrument of reception, in other words, a 
seer. But be this true or not I am always mighty glad when I get 
through for there can be no doubt that such a surtax of the brain is 
fraught with great danger to life.” 2 

Viereck’s writings— not so much in his correspondence as in his 
published work— also give us an interesting impression of what Tesla 
might have been thinking about at this time. In a 1935 magazine article 
entitled “A Machine to End War,” Viereck reported on what Tesla 
believed the world would be like in the years 2035 and 2100. 

“Man in the large,” said the inventor, “is a mass urged on by a 
force. Hence the general laws governing movement in the realm of 
mechanics are applicable to humanity.” 3 

He saw three ways in which the energy determining human 
progress could be increased: first, the improvement of living condi- 
tions, health, eugenics, etc.; second, reduction of the intellectual forces 
that impede progress, such as ignorance, insanity, and religious 
fanaticism; third, the enchaining of such universal sources of energy as 
the sun, ocean, winds, and tides. 

He believed his own mechanistic concept of life to be “one 
with the teachings of Buddha and the Sermon on the Mount” The 
universe was “simply a great machine which never came into being 
and will never end. The human being is no exception to the natural 
order. Man, like the universe, is a machine. Nothing enters our minds 
or determines our actions which is not directly or indirectly a response 

CORKS ON WATER <— » 245 

to stimuli beating upon our sense organs from without Owing to the 
similarity of our construction and the sameness of our environment, 
we respond in like manner to similar stimuli, and from the con- 
cordance of our reactions, understanding is bom. In the course of 
ages, mechanisms of infinite complexity are developed, but what we 
call ‘soul’ or ‘spirit,’ is nothing more than the sum of the functionings of 
the body When this functioning ceases, the ‘soul’ or the ‘spirit’ ceases 
likewise.” 4 

Tesla pointed out that he had expressed these views long 
before the behaviorists, led by Pavlov in Russia and Watson in the 
United States, and stated that such an apparently mechanistic view 
was not antagonistic to an ethical or religious conception of life. In fact, 
he believed that the essences of Buddhism and Christianity would 
comprise the religion of the human race in 2100. 

Eugenics would then, he believed, be firmly established. In a 
harsher time survival of the fittest had weeded out “less desirable 
strains,” Tesla reasoned. “Then man’s new sense of pity began to 
interfere with the ruthless workings of nature,” and the unfit were kept 
alive. “The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and 
the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the 
deliberate guidance of the mating instinct Several European countries 
and a number of states of the American Union sterilize the criminal and 
the insane.” 

How much of this pitiless doctrine was the aging Tesla and how 
much pure Viereck, one cannot say Whoever was responsible, he was 
only just getting into his stride. “This is not sufficient,” according to 
Tesla. “The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make 
marriage more difficult Certainly no one who is not a desirable parent 
should be permitted to produce progeny A century from now it will no 
more occur to a normal person to mate with a person eugenically unfit 
than to marry a habitual criminal.” By 2035, a Secretary of Hygiene or 
Physical Culture would be more important than a Secretary of War. 

Sounding rather more like the real Tesla, the putative Tesla 
goes on to foresee a world in which water pollution would be 
unthinkable, in which the production of wheat products would be 
adequate to feed the starving millions of India and China, in which 
there would be systematic reforestation and the scientific management 
of natural resources, in which there would at last be an end to 
devastating droughts, forest fires, and floods. And of course, the long- 
distance wireless transmission of electricity from water power would 
end the need to bum other fuels. 

CORKS ON WATER <— > 246 

In the twenty-first century civilized nations would spend the 
greater part of their budgets on education, the least on war. He had at 
one time believed that wars could be stopped by making them more 
destructive. “But I found that I was mistaken. I underestimated man’s 
combative instinct, which it will take more than a century to breed out 
. . . War can be stopped, not by malting the strong weak but by making 
every nation, weak or strong, able to defend itself’ 5 

Here he was referring to a “new discovery” that would “make 
any country, large or small, impregnable against armies, airplanes, and 
other means of attack.” It would require a large plant but once 
established, it would be possible to “destroy anything, men or 
machines, approaching within a radius of 200 miles. It will, so to 
speak, provide a wall of power offering an insuperable obstacle against 
any effective aggression.” 

He explicitly stated, however, that his invention was not a 
death ray. Rays tended to diffuse over distance. “My apparatus,” he 
said, “projects particles which may be relatively large or of microscopic 
dimensions, enabling us to convey to a small area at a great distance 
trillions of times more energy than is possible with rays of any kind 
Many thousands of horsepower can thus be transmitted by a stream 
thinner than a hair, so that nothing can resist This wonderful feature 
will make it possible, among other things, to achieve undreamed-of 
results in television, for there will be almost no limit to the intensity of 
illumination, the size of the picture, or distance of projection.” 6 

It was to be not radiation but a charged particle beam. Almost 
half a century later the two most powerful nations in the world would 
be racing to perfect such a weapon. 

Tesla also predicted that ocean liners would be able to cross 
the Atlantic at great speed by means of “a high-tension current 
projected from power plants on shore to vessels at sea through the 
upper reaches of the atmosphere.” In this connection he alluded to one 
of his earliest concepts: such currents, passing through the strat- 
osphere, would light the sky and to a degree turn night into day It was 
his idea to build such power plants at intermediate points, such as 
upon the Azores and Bermuda. 

The deepening political turmoil in Europe in the mid-1930’s 
did not spare Yugoslavia. The Serbian ruler, King Alexander, who had 
established a Yugoslavian dictatorship following a move toward 
separatism by Croatia, was assassinated at Marseille in 1934 by a Croat 

CORKS ON WATER <— > 247 

Tesla promptly wrote to the New York Times in defense of the 
“martyred” monarch. Seeking to minimize the historic differences 
separating Serbs and Croats, he described King Alexander as “a heroic 
figure of imposing stature, both the Washington and Lincoln of the 
Yugoslavs ... a wise and patriotic leader who suffered martyrdom.” 7 It 
was true enough that there had never been unification of the Slavs 
until Alexander forced it upon them, but it would take another 
strongman (Tito) to make it stick. 

Alexander was succeeded by his son, the young King Peter II, 
under the regency of Prince Paul. Tesla accordingly transferred his 
loyalty to the boy king, who would grow up prematurely in a world 

Meanwhile, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been elected 
President of the United States. Proclaiming a New Deal and calling 
Congress into a special session (the famous “100 Days?’), he achieved 
passage in a short space of time of more long-lasting social legislation 
than had ever before been undertaken. In doing so he fused the rage 
of political opponents and drew charges of wanting to “pack” the 
Supreme Court Tesla was one of those who, having voted for 
Roosevelt, soon found his socialistic whirlwind alarming. 

More than ever, the inventor seemed obsessed with his 
mysterious new defensive weapon. In a last poignant appeal for capital 
to d P. Morgan, he wrote: “The flying machine has completely 
demoralized the world, so much so that in some cities, as London and 
Paris, people are in mortal fear from aerial bombing. The new means I 
have perfected affords absolute protection against this and other forms 
of attack. . . . 

“These new discoveries which I have carried out experimen- 
tally on a limited scale, created a profound impression. One of the most 
presang problems seems to be the protection of London and I am 
writing to some influential friends in England, hoping that my plans will 
be accepted without delay. The Russians are very anxious to tender 
their borders safe against the Japanese invasion and I have made them 
a proposal which is being seriously considered. 

“I have many admirers there,” he continued, “especially on 
account of the introduction of my alternating current system. . . . Some 
years ago Lenin made me twice in succession very tempting offers to 
come to Russia but I could not tear myself from my . . . work.” 8 

Tesla went on to say that words could not express how he 
ached for a laboratory again and for the opportunity of squaring his 
account with the senior Morgan’s estate. “I am no longer a dreamer 

CORKS ON WATER <— » 248 

but a practical man of great experience gained in long and bitter trials. 
If I had now $25,000 to secure my property and make convincing 
demonstrations, I could acquire in a short time colossal wealth. Would 
you be willing to advance me this sum if I pledged to you these 

He closed with an attack upon Roosevelt’s program, no doubt 
calculated to soften Morgan: “The ‘New Deal’ is a perpetual motion 
scheme which can never work but is given a semblance of operative- 
ness by unceasing supply of the people’s capital. Most of the measures 
attempted are a bid for votes and some are destructive to established 
industries and decidedly socialistic. The next step might be the 
distribution of wealth by excessive taxing if not conscription. . . ” 9 

Morgan, who had his own Depression problems, failed to rise 
to the bait For a nonscientist it was virtually impossible to tell whether 
Tesla was talking sense or nonsense. 

He had made a similar offer of his “particle beam” to 
Westinghouse that spring, to which Vice-President S. M. Kintner had 
replied that he had discussed with a research specialist “the general 
proposal of creating rays of the kind you mention.” But the specialist 
had been skeptical, “so much so in fact that I hesitate to propose to Mr. 
Merrick your suggestion of a six months? advance payment to enable 
you to file patents.” 10 

Although it is always tempting to cast Tesla in the role of 
prophet without honor, it is conceivable that the research specialist 
was correct about the “particle beam.” Tesla was perfectly capable of 
going off half-cocked, as his forays into metallurgy (in part the result of 
his dissatisfaction with the metals available for use in his turbine) 

He formulated a process for degasifying copper (removing the 
bubbles to produce a superior metal) and interested the American 
Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) in it. Dr. Albert J. Phillips, 
then superintendent of the central research department of ASARCO, 
recalls meetings with Tesla on the project In the depths of the 
Depression he would arrive at the firm’s laboratories in Perth Amboy 
from the Hotel McAlpin in New York where he then lived, in a 
spendid chauffeur-driven limousine. He usually wore a frock coat 
gray striped trousers, gray spats, and carried a cane with a gold knob. 

“Dr. Tesla was a fine distinguished gentleman whom I liked 
very much,” Dr. Phillips told me. “He was probably the world’s 
greatest electrical theorist of the time. However, he was not a 
metallurgist and failed to realize that there was a great deal known 


about metals that he did not know. His experiments in the field of 
copper metallurgy were poorly planned and completely unsuccessful 
Nevertheless I learned a great deal from my association with him and 
recall fond memories of his idiosyncrasies.” 11 

The inventor’s theory was that gas bubbles dispersed in a 
liquid were under pressures much higher than those computed by 
accepted theories, and he believed that such pockets of air or nitrogen, 
if small enough, would have the same density as copper in the liquid 
form. He arrived at the plant with complete drawings of an apparatus 
he wished built to prove his theory. 

“I immediately informed him,” recalls Dr. Phillips, “that the 
apparatus he had so carefully designed would not melt copper and 
could not possibly subject liquid copper to bombardment under 
vacuum to remove the hypothetical gas bubbles from it I also told Dr. 
Tesla that there was plenty of evidence to prove that these hypothetical 
gas bubbles could not exist in molten copper to any great extent” 
The two discussed their differences in a friendly scientific 
manner, “but [Tesla] was not swayed from his beliefs by my objec- 
tions. . . .” So they proceeded to build the apparatus exactly as Tesla 
had designed it And the results were just as the research superinten- 
dent had predicted. At last, liquid copper that had been melted 
elsewhere was poured into the equipment, subjecting the stream of 
metal to high vacuum and bombardment against a “Lava” target 
before it issued from the bottom into a mold. 

“We finally obtained several samples of copper through the 
machine,” Phillips recalls, “which instead of being densified were quite 
gassy and were in no way different from copper that had not been 
subject to the Tesla treatment” 

And then, since the budget was badly overrun, the experi- 
ments were ended. To the best of Dr. Phillips? recollection, ASARCO 
had initially approved $25,000 for the venture (“In 1933 that was a lot 
of mon^ and hard to come by”) and may have extended it later by a 
similar amount 12 

A curious detail emerged from these recollections. Tesla 
showed Dr. Phillips “a photograph of a cancelled check for $1 million, 
if I remember correctly that he had received from the Westinghouse 
Electric Company for one of his patents or inventions.” Since there is 
no record anywhere else of this check, the mystery of the payment for 
his alternating current patents remains unresolved. 

With occasioned consulting jobs Tesla managed to survive the 
Depression and even lent small sums to friends in greater need. In one 

CORKS ON WATER <— » 250 

especially tight spot he went to Westinghouse and, for old times? sake, 
was given a job that brought in $125 a month for a brief period. 
Another time he turned to Robert Johnson and received help in his 
“temporary financial fainting spell,” the latter replying from Stock- 
bridge, Massachusetts, “I have in the bank $178. So I send you 
herewith $100. 1 hope that will do. Heaven bless you!” 

Some time later Johnson fell ill. In his new “old” hand, he 
wrote: “At 83 1 have just published my book, ‘Your Hall of Fame.’ ... I 
shall not live to see your bust placed there. . . but there it will be, never 
doubt, my great and good friend. . . 

“My heart is still yours for of all the years of friendship every 
day is dear. 

“I am told that I am on the mend but the recovery is a long 
time coming. . . n13 

Mend he did, however temporarily for he was soon issuing an 
invitation to Tesla with a flash of the old gaiety: “Our ladies will wear 
their prettiest gowns and the gentlemen will dress in your honor 
tomorrow, and I suggest that you run true to form and look beautiful in 
evening dress for the ladies! I want them to see you at your 
handsomest . . . 

“Yours ever with remembrance of the happy old times, Luka Jl 
Filipov.” 14 

.Then it was Tesla’s turn to be ill. He had grown gaunt and gray 
seldom leaving his hotel, subsisting on milk and Nabisco crackers. In 
his suite enameled empty cracker canisters, all neatly numbered, were 
stacked in rows on shelves. He used them as storage for odds and 
ends, as Swezey noted on his frequent calls. The latter was alarmed by 
the deterioration in the inventor’s condition. 

Johnson wrote: “God bless you and help you dear Tesla and 
may you recover to normal and to this end, do let us come to you. 
Agnes will be of great use. You have only to telephone. Do this in 
memory of Mrs. Johnson. . . ” 15 But he himself had suffered a relapse 
and realized that the end was near. “Neither of us can count on many 
years,” he wrote. “You have few friends besides the Hobsons and us to 
look after you. Do let Agnes come to you. I cannot Not to do this will 
be suicide, dear Nikola.” 16 Soon, however, the inventor had mended. 

The year 1937 was to be one of sad losses for Tesla. Hobson, 
his staunch friend of many years, died suddenly on March 16 at the 
age of sixty-six. 

Robert Johnson died on October 14, following recurring 

CORKS ON WATER <— » 251 

Shortly afterward, on a cold midnight, Tesla left the Hotel New 
Yorker on his regular rounds to scatter feed for his pigeons. Only two 
blocks from the hotel he was struck by a taxi and hurled to the street 
Refusing medical care, he asked to be returned to his hotel room. 

Although in a state of shock, he telephoned a Postal Telegraph 
messenger, William Kerrigan, to call for the pigeon feed and finish his 
errand. For the next six months, Kerrigan went daily to feed the flocks 
at St Patrick’s Cathedral and Bryant Park. 

It was discovered that Tesla had sustained three broken ribs 
and a wrenched back. Complications from pneumonia followed, and 
he lay bedridden until the spring. Although he recuperated, his health 
remained even more frail thereafter, and he was subject to periods of 
irrationality 17 

From old friends at the Westinghouse Company came word 
that the Tesla Institute, which had been founded two years earlier at 
Belgrade, Yugoslavia, was seeking information about his early inven- 
tions. Tesla agreed to have his photo taken beside his original split- 
phase alternating current motor for the research laboratory that was 
being equipped in his honor at the institute. 18 

An endowment had been underwritten for this purpose by the 
Yugoslav government and individual Slavs, and it would include an 
honorarium for Tesla of $7,200 per year. Thanks to his native 
countrymen, “the greatest inventive genius of all time” would at least 
not be destitute in his final years. 

Cosmic Communion 

‘‘One hears many strange things about him,” said Agnes J. Holden, 
the daughter of Robert and Katharine Johnson. “It’s not right to judge 
a man who has passed eighty by what he did in his eighties. I 
remember Tesla when he was thirty-five years old, young and gay and 
full of fun.” 

But the inventor at eighty still enjoyed life and was in fact still 
formulating his far-reaching statement on the universe. Looking 
forward to his birthday parties, he prepared papers for them months 
ahead and planned stunning headlines for his friends of the press. 
Increasingly, the parties were occasions for refuting Einstein, defending 
Newton, and advancing the cosmic theories that Tesla himself had 
long mulled over 

The ten-page statement he issued on his eightieth birthday in 
1936 was never published in its entirety Both in it, and in letters to the 
Times, he waged a continuing debate with leading physicists as to the 
nature of cosmic rays. 1 

He alluded often to his own dynamic theory of gravity, which 
he said would explain “the motions of heavenly bodies under its 
influence so satisfactorily that it will put an end to idle speculations and 
false conceptions, as that of curved space.” In his considerable writing 
on astrophysics and celestial mechanics, however, this theory of gravity 
was never elucidated. 

The curvature of space, he stated, was entirely impossible since 
action and reaction are coexistent A curve would be counteracted by 
straightening. Nor would any explanation of the universe be possible 
without recognizing the existence of ether and its indispensable 
function. The Einsteinian revolution notwithstanding, he remained 
convinced that there was “no energy in matter other than that received 
from the environment” And this, he held, applied rigorously to 
molecules and atoms as well as to the largest heavenly bodies. 

In short, he was quite wrong. 

For the occasion of his eightieth birthday he spoke of yet more 
inventions for interstellar communication and energy transmission 



“I am expecting to put before the Institute of France an 
accurate description of the devices with data and calculations and 
claim the Pierre Guzman Prize of 100,000 francs for means of 
communication with other worlds, feeling perfectly sure that it will be 
awarded to me,” he said. “The money of course, is a trifling 
consideration, but for the great historical honor of being the first to 
achieve this miracle I would be almost willing to give my life.” 2 Years 
later, however, the Institute of France denied that it had ever received 
an entry from Tesla. In fact, the Guzman Prize is still awaiting a 
successful claimant 

“My most important invention from a practical point of view,” 
Tesla continued, “is a new form of tube with apparatus for its 
operation. In 1896 1 brought out a high potential targetiess tube which I 
operated successfully with potentials up to 4 million volts. ... At a later 
period I managed to produce very much higher potentials up to 18 
million volts, and then I encountered insurmountable difficulties which 
convinced me that it was necessary to invent an entirely different form 
of tube in order to carry out successfully certain ideas I had conceived 
This task I found far more difficult than I had expected, not so much in 
the construction as in the operation of the tube. For many years I was 
baffled . . . although I made a steady slow progress. Finally . . . complete 
success. I produced a tube which it will be hard to improve further. It is 
of ideal simplicity, not subject to wear, and can be operated at any 
potential, however high. . . . It will carry heavy currents, transform any 
amount of energy within practical limits, and it permits easy control 
and regulation of the same. I expect . . . results undreamed of before. 
Among others, it will [make possible] the production of cheap radium 
substitutes in any desired quantity and will be, in general, immensely 
more effective in the smashing of atoms and the transmutation of 
matter.” He cautioned that it would not, however, open up a way to 
utilize atomic energy since his research had convinced him that this 
was nonexistent 3 

He confessed to a certain annoyance because some news- 
papers had announced that he was prepared to give a full description 
of his remarkable tube. This would be impossible. 

Because of “some obligations I have undertaken regarding the 
application of the tube for important purposes,” he explained, “I am 
unable to make a complete disclosure now. But as soon as I am 
relieved of these obligations a technical description of the device and of 
all the apparatus will be given to scientific institutions.” 

No patents were ever filed nor was a prototype displayed. The 
second discovery he wanted to announce at his party consisted of “a 


new method and apparatus for the obtainment of vacua exceeding 
many times the highest heretofore realized. I think that as much as 
one-billionth of a micron can be attained. What may be accomplished 
by means of such vacua ... will make possible the production of much 
more intense effects in electron tubes.” 1 " 

There was a pause while wine was poured for his guests and 
glasses raised. Then die old man explained that he did not agree with 
ideas currently held regarding the electron. He believed that when an 
electron left an electrode of extremely high potential and in very high 
vacuum, it carried an electrostatic charge many times greater than 

“This may astonish some of those who think that the particle 
has the same charge in the tube and outside of it in the air,” he said. “A 
beautiful and instructive experiment has been contrived by me 
shouting that such is not the case, for as soon as the particle gets out 
into the atmosphere it becomes a blaring star owing to the escape of 
the excess charge. . . ”t 

Tesla may have been on to something. Four decades later, the 
returns are still not in on the electrical charge of the electron. Physicists 
have been trying for years to calculate the charges of subatomic and 
larger particles. Despite confusing results, no one but Tesla had been 
willing to surest that an electric charge could exist that was not equal 
to the charge of an electron, or of integral multiples thereof— no one, 
that is, until 1977 when three American physicists reported that they 
had discovered “evidence for fractional charge.” 

The result, if confirmed, “is likely to stand as one of the most 
important results in physics of this or any century,” reported Science 
News. 4 Whether or not subpartides called “loose quarks?’ are involved 
in this esoteric mystery may prove to be at the heart of the matter. 
Tesla, although he did not know a quark from a gluon and lacked the 
elaborate research equipment of contemporary scientists, had at his 
service what Hobson had once described as his “cosmic intuition.” 

"This may have referred to improvements on the patent filed in 1922 which Tesla did 
not process to completion. 

tMaurice Stahl suggests that the “blazing star” from Tesla’s high-vacuum discharge 
tube may have been Leonard rays, which are very high-speed electrons able to 
penetrate very thin windows and show luminous paths by ionization of air molecules. 
This experiment does not necessarily multiply charged elections. However, Tesla 
himself did not think this the effect he observed. 


The eighty-first birthday party was a replay of the year before 
in terms of the inventions announced by the guest of honor, but it 
brought more international recognition. 

His old friend Ambassador Konstantin Fotic presented the 
Grand Cordon of the White Eagle, the highest order of Yugoslavia, in 
behalf of young King Peter II through the Regent Paul. Then the 
Minister from Czechoslovakia, not to be outdone, presented to Tesla 
the Grand Cordon of the White Lion in the name of President Eduard 
Benes. With this came an honorary degree from the University of 

On this occasion the reporters questioned Tesla closely on his 
repeated claim of having perfected an interplanetary communication 
system. Once more he alluded to his intention of seeking the Pierre 
Guzman prize for this achievement. 

The invention, he said, was “absolutely developed.” 

“I couldn’t be any surer that I can transmit energy 100 miles 
than I am of the fact that I can transmit energy 1 million miles up,” he 
said. He spoke of a “different land of energy,” as he had in the past, 
that would travel through a channel of less than one-half of one- 
millionth of a centimeter. 8 

Life on other planets was a “certitude.” One problem that 
troubled him, he said, was the danger of hitting other planets with his 
“needle-point of tremendous energy,” but he hoped that astronomers 
would help to solve this problem. 

His point of energy, said the inventor, could easily be aimed at 
the moon, and Earthlings would then be able to see the effects, “the 
splash and the volatilization of matter.” He suggested that advanced 
thinkers on other planets might even mistake the Tesla energy beam 
for some form of cosmic ray. 

Once again he alluded to his atom-smashing electronic tube 
with which cheap radium could be produced. “I have built it, 
demonstrated, and used it Only a little time will pass before I can give 
it to the world.” 

Were these merely the ramblings of an old man clinging to 
youthful dreams? The professors pooh-poohed them, but science 
writers as usual took him seriously The world was on the verge of 
global war. William L. Laurence of the New York Times quoted Tesla in 
1940 on the potential of erecting a “Chinese Wall” of his “teleforce” 
rays around the United States, which could melt airplanes at a distance 
of 250 miles. With $2 million to build a projection plant (was this the 


“limitless?’ market for steel Tesla had spoken of?), he claimed this could 
be done in three months. Laurence proposed that the government 
take him up on it. The War Department, as usual, made no overture to 
the inventor. 

Teleforce, said Tesla, was based on four new inventions, of 
which two had already been tested: 1. a method of producing rays in 
the free air without a vacuum; 2. a method of producing “very great 
electrical force”; 3. a method of amplifying this force; and 4. a new 
method for producing “tremendous electrical propelling force.” 6 

For years Tesla’s biographers would be unable to find evidence 
to support the existence of working papers on these inventions. United 
States security agencies would consistently disavow knowledge of such 
matters; which was curious, because biographer O’Neill declared that 
federal agents removed from his home even nonsensitive papers of 
Tesla’s, and he was never afterward able to discover who had actually 
“borrowed” his files. 

Both O’Neill and (finally) Swezey were to conclude that Tesla’s 
so-called secret weapons were “so much nonsense.” O’Neill said, “The 
only knowledge I had was a firm belief that his theories, never 
adequately revealed to form a basis for judgment, were totally 
impracticable.” At the same time, however, he admitted that he was 
never privy to any of Tesla’s unpublished papers and that trying to get 
information from the inventor had always caused him to clam up in a 
direct ratio to the effort exerted. 

A further curious fact was that even Tesla’s proposals for his 
turbine and aircraft appeared to vanish from the federal archives. 

One of the final honors that came to the inventor found him 
too ill to make a personal acceptance. The Institute of Immigrant 
Welfare in 1938 invited him to a ceremonial dinner at the Hotel 
Biltmore for a citation. His friend, Dr. Rado, read his speech, which 
contained high praise of George Westinghouse “to whom humanity 
owes an immense debt of gratitude.” In absentia Tesla again claimed 
that he would win the Pierre Guzman prize for his work in cosmic 

His last years were not entirely fixed on outer space, however, 
nor were they even entirely cerebral. Some of his intellectual friends 
were surprised, even embarrassed, when with obvious pleasure, he 
began to fraternize with certain shy, burly, broken-nosed gentlemen of 
the boxing ring. This late-blooming fascination with pugilists and 
boxing confused both Swezey and O’Neill. 


“Brain Dines Brawn,” declared a wire photo caption. A happy 
Tesla was shown at table with the amiable Zivic brothers: “Dr. Nicola 
Tesla, famed inventor, broke his five-year, self-imposed exile in his 
suite at the Hotel New Yorker on Dec. 18th when he played host to 
Fritzie Zivic, welterweight champion. ... Dr. Tesla, an ardent sports fan, 
predicted that Zivic would beat Lew Jenkins in their non-title bout. . .” 
The ever-admiring O’Neill, present at one of these meals, claimed that 
the psychic energy zinging between Tesla and the brothers made his 
own skin itch and tingle. Another writer present admitted feeling the 
same odd effects. 

Removed as he was from the events in Europe, Tesla was not 
to be spared the tragedies of war in his last years. The honors 
conferred upon him by Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia had been 
expressions by countries enjoying their last gasps of intellectual 
freedom. Hitler soon invaded Austria and his demands for the 
autonomy of Germans in the Sudetenland led to a crisis of government 
in Czechoslovakia. President Eduard Benes resigned after Britain, 
France, and Italy, without even consulting his government, acceded to 
German occupation of the Sudetenland. 

Next Yugoslavia’s Regent Paul outraged the people of that 
country by agreeing to a compromise with Hitler that committed Slavs 
to join the Axis powers. For once diverse factions of Yugoslavia pulled 
together in defiance— Army, church, and peasants; Serbs, Croats, and 
Slovenes. Immediately, the pro-Allied Serbian military elements staged 
a successful coup and replaced Prince Paul with the seventeen-year- 
old King Peter II, who ascended the throne on March 28, 1941. 

It pleased Tesla that the son of King Alexander, whom he had 
admired, was now the monarch. His closest friends in the New York/ 
Washington Slavic communities remained those of “Great Serbian” 
outlook attached to the Yugoslav Embassy under Ambassador Fotic. 
At that time the only Croat on the Embassy staff was a young aide 
named Bogdan Raditsa (now a professor of Balkan history at Fairleigh 
Dickinson University). But soon Tesla’s nephew, Sava Kosanovic, a 
Serb bom in Croatia, arrived in America to play what seemed to the 
frail old man a worrying and perplexing role. 

Events began moving too fast The inventor, aware mainly of 
tensions and shifting alliances among the local Slavic population, 
scarcely grasped the feet that as the greatest living hero of the 
Yugoslavs, he had been singled out by fate as an ideological pawn 
between East and West 

Death and Transfiguration 

The new government of King Peter, with broad popular support, 
confronted the Germans and refused to ratify the compromise agree- 
ment that had been made with Hitler by Prince Paul. Almost at once 
reprisals began. 

On Palm Sunday, 1941, three hundred Luftwaffe bombers 
swept over the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade. Methodically they 
crisscrossed the city street by street, strafing everything that breathed 
By noon 25,000 civilians were dead, and the wounded lay every- 
where. Most public buildings were left in ruins, including the modem 
laboratory known as the Tesla Institute. 

The combined armed forces of Germany, Italy Hungary, and 
Bulgaria invaded the doomed country. Within only days the Yugoslav 
Army was crushed, and King Peter was sent to England for safety His 
govemment-in-exile would operate from London for the remainder of 
World War II. 

This, however, was only the beginning of the war for 
Yugoslavs. Accustomed to successive invasions for a thousand years, 
the people were resilient The remnants of the Army and Communist 
factions withdrew into the mountains, from which they launched 
guerrilla attacks on the invaders. These armed fighters, men and 
women, were supplied with food grown by the old people and children 
remaining in undefended villages. 

Against them the Nazis and Fascists carried out murderous 
reprisals. In the fishing villages and along the stony slopes of the 
Adriatic, half the people in every hamlet were systematically shot 

Soon, however, it became apparent to military strategists in the 
United States and England that, not only were Axis forces killing 
Yugoslavs, but rival guerrilla factions of monarchists and Communists 
had begun to vie for Allied support and were shooting each other as 
well as the invaders. 

Col. Drazha Mihailovic, a Serbian army officer, led a faction 
called Chetniks (the “Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland”), composed 
mainly of Serbian and Bosnian monarchists. With close ties to King 



Peter, they became the first major resistance movement in Europe. 1 
The initial British aid to Yugoslavia went to the Chetniks, but it was 
short-lived. The National Liberation Army or Partisans, led by Josip 
Broz Tito of the Communist Party, was swiftly rising to prominence. 

Allied strategists knew little of Tito. It was said he had been left 
wounded on a battlefield in 1917 and captured by the Russians. There 
he was trained as a Communist leader and sent to France during the 
Spanish Civil War to aid the Loyalists or Republicans. 

A Croat, Tito had little reason to love the monarchy for he was 
imprisoned after returning to Yugoslavia. On release, he became 
active in organizing a metal workers? union and helped to build the 
Yugoslav labor movement His emergence as head of the Partisans in 
World War II was that of a natural leader who inspired his fighters and 
maintained rigorous discipline. He was looking ahead to a time when 
the Slavs could rebuild a free and united country without oppression 
either by foreigners or kings. 

Tito’s goal was to set up committees of popular liberation after 
the Russian style, while Mihailovic and the Chetniks favored local 
administrative authorities under the monarchy. Both factions kept on 
killing Germans and Italians but, unfortunately, they also continued 
murdering each other. 2 

Prof. Bogdan Raditsa*, then director of the information service 
of the Yugoslav Embassy in Washington, D.C., recalls, “The situation 
became rather complicated when Yugoslavia collapsed in 1941 and 
when, at the end of that year, a Royal Yugoslav Mission came to this 
country.” It was composed of members of King Peter’s government 
and the Ban (Governor) of Croatia, Dr. Ivan Subasic. Sava Kosanovic, 
Tesla’s nephew, then a member of the Democratic Party also arrived as 
a minister of the exiled government 

“As soon as Kosanovic came to the States,” says Professor 
Raditsa, “he tried to reorient Tesla from the exclusive Serbian policy 
and he succeeded. Tesla, even before, never felt himself a Great 
Serbian chauvinist He used to say ‘I am a Serb but my fatherland is 
Croatia.’” 3 

The conflict between Serbs and Croats in exile intensified as 
the war went on, paralyzing normal Slav diplomatic activities in 
London, Washington, and New York. 

“Kosanovic, though a Serb,” recalls Raditsa, “was leading the 
struggle for a brotherhood between the Serbs and Croats against 
Fotic and many other Serb members of various Yugoslav missions. 
♦Raditsa belonged to a family in southern Croatia that had always favored a union of 
Croatians and Serbs. 


Thus he began using Tesla for the polio/ directed against the Great 

“Tesla himself . . . was not aware of the deep conflict between 
the Serbs and Croats, and as basically a scientist and in old age, he 
was very candid in politics.” 

Raditsa said he seemed happy that he finally had a man of his 
own blood near him in New York and noted that Tesla began to rely 
upon Kosanovic’s opinion on everything. During this period the 
inventor was receiving about $500 per month from the royal govern- 
ment as an honorarium. 

Various political messages elicited from Tesla for home con- 
sumption, says Raditsa, were actually written by Kosanovic. 4 

Toward the end of 1942 the Yugoslav Information Center was 
opened in New York in the Royal Mission headquarters on Fifth 
Avenue. Raditsa and Kosanovic worked together at this office, issuing 
bulletins and other publications. But a crisis broke out when news 
reached them of the fighting between Mihailovic and Tito. 

“Kosanovic,” he said, “joined Tito and began to popularize the 
National Liberation Movement for a new Yugoslavia. He had a terrible 
time to convince Tesla that monarchy was losing in Yugoslavia and 
that a new Yugoslavia was beginning to come out from the fratricidal 
civil war. As the largest majority of Serbs in Croatia were joining Tito, 
Kosanovic convinced Tesla that he too should join the movement that 
was largely shared by the masses of the people, Serbs and Croats. So 
Tesla’s message to the Serbs and Croats was written by Kosanovic.” 5 

On the walls of the Tesla Museum in Belgrade one may read a 
vastly enlarged photocopy of the words allegedly sent by Tesla to his 
embattled countrymen only months before his own death. American 
Vice-President Henry A. Wallace also had a hand in its drafting. 
Typewritten, it has many cross-outs and interlinings in Tesla’s own 
handwriting yet the style is that of an ideologue, which the inventor 
was not 

Out of this war ... a new world must be bom, a world 
that would justify the sacrifices offered by humanity This . . . 
must be a world in which there shall be no exploitation of the 
weak by the strong, of the good by the evil, where there will be 
no humiliation of the poor by the violence of the rich; where 
the products of the intellect, science, and art will serve society 
for the betterment and beautification of life, and not the 
individuals for achieving wealth. This new world shall not be a 


world of the downtrodden and humiliated, but of free men and 
free nations, equal in dignity and respect for man. 

The inventor’s name also appeared on another message— sent 
to the Soviet Academy of Sciences on October 12, 1941, urging joint 
struggle against the Axis powers by Russia, Great Britain, and America, 
in aid of the revolutionary struggle of the Yugoslav people. This 
message is not to be seen in the Museum, however, presumably 
because nostalgia Russian-style has ceased to be politic. 

Kosanovic became chairman of the Yugoslav Economic Mis- 
sion advocating a New Yugoslav federation versus the centralist 
prewar royalist Yugoslavia. This new organization also began working 
for a new Central East European Federation. Raditsa too became a 
member of the Tito movement 

King Peter was desperately seeking for Mihailovic the support 
of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston 
Churchill, as well as that of his own Uncle Bertie, who was King 
George VI of England. The British, at first sympathetic to the Chetnik 
cause, began to change as they received reports of the aggressive 
actions of Tito’s Partisans. 

In 1942 King Peter visited Washington to intercede with FDR 
Yugoslav pilots were being trained in Tennessee. FDR told him that 
America would send airplanes to the Chetniks as soon as they could 
be spared from the war in the Middle East The monarch visited New 
York City, attending a large reception for the American Friends of 
Yugoslavia at the Colony Club. The Colony, the first female socialites? 
club in America, had been founded at the inspiration of energetic 
Anne Morgan. She attended the function, as did the King’s mother, 
Queen Marie, and Mrs. Roosevelt It was the sort of affair Tesla himself 
would have delighted in had he not been weak and ill. So King Peter 
went to him. 

In his diaries (A King’s Heritage), under date July 8, 1942, the 
young Peter II writes: ‘‘I visited Dr. Nicola Tesla, the world-famous 
Yugoslav-American scientist in his apartment in the Hotel New Yorker. 
After I had greeted him the aged scientist said: ‘It is my greatest honor. 
I am glad you are in your youth, and I am content that you will be a 
great ruler. I believe I will live until you come back to a free Yugoslavia. 
From your father you have received his last words: ‘Guard Yugoslavia.’ 
I am proud to be a Serbian and a Yugoslav. Our people cannot perish. 
Preserve the unity of all Yugoslavs— the Serbs, the Croats, and 


The King added that he was deeply touched and that both he 
and Dr. Tesla had wept He then visited Columbia University, to be 
warmly welcomed by President Nicholas Murray Butler and to find 
another link with his own country in the Pupin Physics Laboratory. 

Returning to Washington, he was assured by FDR that food, 
clothing, arms, and ammunition would be dropped over Yugoslavia. 
But he was shocked when, in 1943, the British Mission in Yugoslavia 
made official contact with Tito. Peter asked to be parachuted into his 
country but Churchill demurred Tito openly accused Mihailovic of 
being a traitor. 6 

At the Teheran Conference in November there occurred, 
largely at Churchill’s instance, what the King described as a “fatal 
change” of Allied policy. It was decided that “the basic force fighting 
the Germans in Yugoslavia recognized by the Allies was the National 
Liberation Army, under the command of Tito, and the Partisan force 
received full recognition as an Allied Army. Mihailovic was thus denied 
and abandoned.” 7 

Winston Churchill overnight became a hero of modern 
Yugoslavia. And when the young monarch frantically wrote to FDR for 
support, the ailing President replied urging him to accept Churchill’s 
advice “as if it was my own.” Within months Roosevelt died. 

Tesla’s nephew, Kosanovic, along with certain other diplomatic 
representatives of King Peter, had been dismissed by the monarch at 
the height of the 1942 crisis. He often told Bogdan Raditsa in those 
days that he felt Tesla had been terribly shocked by his nephew’s 
exclusion from the royal government. In fact, Kosanovic believed that 
the inventor’s death was actually precipitated by his own “setback.” 

“He thought,” Kosanovic repeatedly told Raditsa, “that I was 
punished, and that eventually I would be arrested or something of the 
kind, but I succeeded to convince him that it was inevitable in 
politics.” 8 

During this period Kosanovic was frank in saying that he tried 
to keep Tesla from seeing members of the royal government Ambas- 
sador Fotic had become “the enemy” since he still favored a Great 
Serbian policy as opposed to the changes ahead. Tesla’s relationship 
with this old friend became “lukewarm.” 

“There is no doubt,” says Professor Raditsa, “that the whole 
internecine tragedy of Yugoslavia from 1941 to 1943 must have had a 
rather depressing impact upon Tesla. Very often he would ask me, 
could I explain to him what was going on among us, and why we 
cannot agree. . . .” 


After the war, Mihailovic would be executed by a “People’s 
Court” for alleged collaboration with the enemy, and the Republic of 
Yugoslavia declared to exist, with Tito as President for life and the 
Communists firmly in charge. 

A count of Yugoslavian casualties at the end of World War II 
disclosed that 2 million persons had died; tragically, many thousands 
had been killed by fellow Yugoslavs. 

“After the war,” recalls Professor Raditsa, “Kosanovic became 
a minister in the Tito-Subasic Government, and I was his assistant in 
the Ministry of Information from 1944 to 1945, when I left the country, 
for I couldn’t become a Communist Later on in 1946, Sava Kosanovic 
became Tito’s ambassador in Washington but I never saw him again 
after I left Belgrade in October of 1945. Kosanovic had accepted totally 
the Communist system in Yugoslavia and remained loyal until his 

There had not been a time in ten centuries when the Yugoslavs 
had not been ruled and ransacked by invaders— by Venetians, 
Romans, Turks, Bulgars, Austrians, Hungarians, Germans, Italians, 
when they were not living under threat of torture, prison, or violent 
death. Now a marvelous truth began to dawn upon them: that they 
were free, in a manner of speaking. 

Tesla would not live to see this. Whether he could ever have 
accepted the new government, with its Soviet-type Constitution and a 
Soviet alliance, whether he could ever have accepted the permanent 
exile of his beloved monarch, are unanswerable questions. 

Unfortunately however, all this was to have a bearing on how 
he would be remembered in the West The fading of his scientific 
reputation, the forgetfulness of Americans in the postwar period, 
resulted in large degree from the disappearance of most of his scientific 
papers behind that new Cold War phenomenon, the Iron Curtain. 

In 1948 Yugoslavia ceased to be an Iron Curtain country, 
declaring its independence from the Soviet doctrine of “limited 
sovereignty” America and her allies then were generous in sending 
economic and military aid to the Slavs; but the damage had been 
done. America had not raced to Tito’s wartime support with the 
alacrity that Churchill had shown. In the future it would not be made 
easy for American scholars to draw on Yugoslav sources to document 
the achievements of Nikola Tesla. 

The inventor became very feeble in the winter of 1942. His 
fear of germs was so obsessive that even his closest friends were 


required to stand at a distance, like the subjects of a neurotic Tudor. 
(Pigeon germs did not seem to worry him.) He had heart trouble and 
suffered occasionally from fainting spells. No longer able to feed his 
beloved birds, he often relied upon a young man named Charles 
Hausler, who owned racing pigeons, to take care of them for him. 

Hausler had worked for Tesla in this capacity from around 
1928 onward, his job being to go to the New York Public Library at 
noon each day with grain and then to walk around the four sides of the 
building looking for young or injured birds on window alls or behind 
large statues. He would take them to Tesla’s hotel for rest and 
recuperation. Then, he has recalled, “I would release them at the 
library for him.” He remembered that the cages in Tesla’s rooms had 
been built by a fine carpenter — “as Mr. Tesla was in all his doings it 
had to be done right” The pigeons also enjoyed a curtained shower 

Hausler and Tesla spent many hours together, talking mostly of 
pigeons. Once Tesla confided to him that “Thomas Edison could not 
be trusted.” The boy remembered his employer as “a very kind and 
considerate human person,” and there was one inddent that stood out 
in his mind long afterward. “He had a large box or container in his 
room near the pigeon cages and he told me to be very careful not to 
disturb the box,” said Hausler, “as it contained something that could 
destroy an airplane in the sky and he had hopes of presenting it to the 
world.” He believed it probably was stored in the cellar of the hotel 
later 9 

On a bitter day in early January 1943, Tesla called his other 
messenger boy, Kerrigan, and gave him a sealed envelope addressed 
to Mr. Samuel Clemens, 35 South Fifth Avenue, New York City. The 
boy set forth into the whipping wind and searched fruitlessly for the 
number. As it turned out, this had been the address of Tesla’s first 
laboratory; but now South Fifth Avenue was West Broadway, and no 
one by the name of Samuel Clemens lived in the area. 

Kerrigan made his way back to the Hotel New Yorker and 
reported to the sick man. In a weak voice, Tesla explained that 
Clemens was the famous Mark Twain and that everyone knew of him. 
He sent Kerrigan forth once more, and this time asked him also to take 
care of the pigeons. The perturbed messenger fed the birds and then 
consulted his supervisor, who told him that Mark Twain had been dead 
for twenty-five years. Once again Kerrigan trudged through the cold 
afternoon to Tesla’s rooms, where he explained and tried to return the 


The inventor was indignant and refused to hear that the 
humorist was dead. “He was in my room last night,” he said. “He sat 
in that chair and talked to me for an hour. He is having financial 
difficulties and needs my help. So — don’t come back until you have 
delivered that envelope.” Once again the messenger went to his 
supervisor and together they opened the envelope. It contained a 
blank sheet of paper wrapped around twenty five-dollar bills — enough 
to help an old friend through a little fainting spell. 

On the fourth of January; the inventor, although very weak, 
went to his office to make an experiment that George Scherff was 
interested in. Scherff dropped in to help him prepare for it. The work 
was interrupted, however, when Tesla felt a recurrence of some sharp 
pains in his chest 

Refusing medical aid, he returned to his hotel. Next day a maid 
came in and cleaned. As she left, he asked her to put the Do Not 
Disturb sign on his door to keep visitors away; and not to bother 
cleaning. The sign remained there the following day and the one after 

Early on the morning of January 8, Alice Monaghan, a maid, 
ignored the sign and entered the apartment to find the inventor dead 
in bed, his sunken, emaciated face composed. 10 Assistant Medical 
Examiner H. W. Wembly examined the body, placed the time of death 
as 10:30 P.M. on January 7, 1943, and gave his opinion that the cause 
of death had been coronary thrombosis. Tesla had died in his sleep; 
and the examiner noted that he had found “No suspicious circum- 
stances.” The inventor was eighty-six years of age. 

Kenneth Swezey was notified at once; and at ten o’clock that 
morning he telephoned to Dr. Rado at New York University King 
Peter’s headquarters, then at 745 Fifth Avenue, was advised by the 
professor. Tesla’s nephew, Kosanovic, then wartime president of the 
Eastern and Central European Planning Board for the Balkan coun- 
tries, also was notified. 

Then the FBI was called. Swezey and Kosanovic summoned a 
locksmith and Tesla’s safe was opened and the contents examined. 

The body was removed to the Frank E. Campbell Funeral 
Home at Madison Avenue and 81st Street and a sculptor was engaged 
by Hugo Gemsback to prepare a death mask of the inventor. 

Just before Tesla’s death, Eleanor Roosevelt had tried to 
intercede in his behalf with President Roosevelt— perhaps with the 
idea of conferring some honor upon him. In the Tesla Museum at 
Belgrade three brief notes on White House stationery may be read. On 


January 1, at the request of author Louis Adamic, Mrs. Roosevelt had 
promised to ask the President to write to Tesla and said that she herself 
would call on him on her next trip to New York. The second note is 
headed, “Memo for Mrs. Roosevelt” and is signed FDR: “1 was having 
this looked into but the papers yesterday carried the story that Dr. 
Tesla had died. Therefore I am returning the enclosures herewith.” A 
third note of January 11 from Eleanor Roosevelt to Adamic forwards 
the President’s message and adds her sorrow at learning of the 
inventor’s death. 

Adamic wrote a moving eulogy to Tesla that was read by New 
York Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia over station WNYC on January 
10.“ Meanwhile the extreme tensions between Serb and Croat factions 
in the United States were making the planning of funeral sendees 
difficult The body lay in state but, according to an unpublished letter 
of O’Neill’s, “only twelve people, some of whom were newspaper 
reporters,” came to view it 

When state services were held at four o’clock on January 12, in 
the Cathedral of St John the Divine, however, more than two 
thousand people crowded in. Serbs and Croats were seated on 
opposing sides of the cathedral, Bishop William T. Manning having 
exacted from both factions a promise of no political speeches. The 
service was begun in English by Bishop Manning and concluded in 
Serbian by the Very Rev. Dusan Sukletovic. 

Among Balkan diplomats present were Ambassador Folic, 
the Governor of Croatia, a former Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, 
and the Minister of Food and Reconstruction. In the front row with 
Kosanovic, chief mourner and head of the important new trade 
mission, sat Swezey Dr. Rado had been too ill to attend as an 
honorary pallbearer 

Figures important in American science and industry who did 
attend as honorary pallbearers included Professor Edwin H. 
Armstrong, Dr. E. F. W. Alexanderson of General Electric, Dr. Harvey 
Rentschler of Westinghouse, engineer Gano Dunn, and W. H. Barton, 
curator of the Hayden Planetarium of the American Museum of 
Natural History Newbold Morris, president of the New York City 
Council, headed this group. 

When word of Tesla’s death spread abroad to war-stricken 
Europe, telegrams of tribute and sorrow began pouring in from 
scientists and governmental leaders alike. In the United States three 
Nobel prizewinners in physics, Millikan, Compton, and James Franck, 
joined in a eulogy to the inventor as “one of the outstanding intellects 


of the world who paved the way for many of the important technologi- 
cal developments of modem times.” 

The President and Mrs. Roosevelt expressed their gratitude for 
Tesla’s contributions “to science and industry and to this country.” 
Vice-President Wallace, in the spirit of the new Yugoslavia, declared 
that, “In Nikola Tesla’s death the common man loses one of his best 

Although Louis Adamic wrongly eulogized Tesla as one who 
had cared nothing for money, he could not have been more accurate 
when he said that Tesla was not really dead: “The real, important part 
of Tesla lives in his achievement, which is great, almost beyond 
calculation, and an integral part of our civilization, our daily lives, our 
current war effort ... His life is a triumph. . . .” 12 

Among the honors that had come to Tesla in his life were many 
academic degrees from American and foreign universities; the John 
Scott Medal, the Edison Medal, and various awards from European 
governments. In September 1943 the liberty ship Nikola Tesla was 
launched, an honor that would have pleased the scientist But not until 
1975 was he inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. 

Eight months after Tesla’s death, the U.S. Supreme Court 
handed down the decision that he had been confident would come 
eventually— ruling that he was the inventor of radio. 

His body was taken to Femcliffe Cemetery at Ardsley-on-the- 
Hudson in the deep cold of the winter afternoon. In the car that 
followed the hearse rode Swezey and Kosanovic. The inventor’s 
remains were cremated and his ashes later returned to the land of his 

In almost every nation in the world, the fighting and dying 

‘Charlotte Muzar, formerly secretary to Sava N. Kosanovic, carried Tesla’s ashes to the 
Tesla Museum in Belgrade in 1957. Throughout the years Kosanovic had spoken of 
leaving the ashes in America and had hoped an appropriate memorial to the inventor 
would be raised in the United States as their resting place. 

— Archives, Tesla Memorial Society. 

The Missing Papers 

In addition to his acknowledged achievements, Tesla left a legacy of 
riddles. To pose only three of the most major Was his unrealized 
concept for the wireless transmission of energy through the Earth 
scientifically valid? What actually was he doing in his experimentation 
with death/disintegrator beam weapons? And what became of his 
unpatented research papers and other sensitive documents in the days 
immediately following his death? 

In the category of subquestions, what turn of affairs rekindled 
the intense interest erf the U.S. intelligence establishment in Tesla’s 
work (as something surely did) in the late 1940’s? 

Like Einstein he had been an outsider and, like Edison, a 
wide-ranging generalist As he himself had said, he had the “boldness 
of ignorance.” Where others stopped short, aware of what could not be 
done, he continued. The survival of such mutants and polymaths as 
Tesla tends to be discouraged by modem scientific guilds. Whether 
either he or Edison could have flourished in today’s milieu is 

The example set by Tesla has always been particularly inspir- 
ing to the lone runner At the same time, however, his legacy to 
establishment science is profound for his research, although some- 
times esoteric, was almost always sweeping in its potential to transform 
society. His contribution was major rather than incremental. His 
turbine failed in part because it would have required fundamental 
changes by whole industries. Alternating current triumphed only after 
it had overcome the resistance of an entire industry. 

But there was an unfortunate corollary to Tesla’s lone battles 
with the scientific-industrial establishment Since he was part of no 
group or institution, he had no colleagues with whom to discuss work 
in progress, no formal, accessible repository for his research notes and 
papers. He worked not just in private, but— his love of flamboyant 
announcements to the press notwithstanding— in secret Thus any 
inventions which he did not patent or give freely to the world were 
more or less shrouded in mystery And, because of the handling of the 



papers he left behind after his death, the range of his achievement 
continues to remain a partial mystery 

If this has been frustrating to the scientists who have succeeded 
Tesla, it has at least been stimulating. After a period of obscurity, the 
one hundreth anniversary of his birth in July 1956 brought an 
international reawakening to the importance of the inventor’s life and 
genius. Interest in his work, fired by a growing awareness of the riddles 
surrounding it, has been escalating ever since, almost as if he had been 
reborn in his true psychological age 

He was honored by centennial celebrations in America and 
Europe. The American Institute of Electrical Engineers dedicated its fall 
meeting in Chicago to a review of his life and inventions. Commem- 
orative programs were arranged by the Institute of Radio Engineers, 
the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, the Franklin Institute, 
and various universities, the Tesla Society playing an active role in such 
recognition. Permanent memorials in the form of scholarships and 
medals were proposed and exhibits presented by science museums. 
Special ceremonies were conducted at Niagara Falls, and a statue was 
later erected in his honor on Goat Island, a gift from the people of 
Yugoslavia. Chicago, reminded by attomey/author Elmer Gertz that it 
should be eternally grateful to him for having made the Columbian 
Exposition of 1893 the “wonder of the globe,” dedicated a new public 
school to Tesla’s memory 

The inventor’s old colleagues of the AIEE journeyed to Europe 
to attend more celebrations, statue unveilings, and dedications in his 
honor. The International Electrotechnical Commission in Munich took 
formal action, making his name an international scientific unit, the 
tesla joining such historic electrical symbols as farad, volt, ampere, and 
ohm. 1 

As the exploration of space accelerated, so did interest in Tesla, 
especially from the standpoint of beam weaponry and microwave 
work. In America, Russia, Canada, and various other countries, 
projects in his name or derived from his pioneering, from weather- 
control to nuclear fusion, began to attract scientific attention. Some 
were just the shoestring efforts of loners, their laboratories old Quonset 
huts. Some were top secret and financed by enormous budgets. 

Tesla’s year of secret experiments at Colorado Springs in 1899 
provided the basic impetus for much of this new exploration. His 
Colorado Springs Notes,* when they appeared in English in 1978 

"This book may be ordered from Nolit, Terazije, 27, Belgrade, Yugoslavia (about 


under the imprint of the Tesla Museum at Belgrade, were eagerly 
awaited by many scientists. But even this work left important questions 

The bulk of his papers having vanished from America, reliable 
information was harder to come by than the recurring rumors of 
conspiracy espionage, and patent theft Scientists thought it strange 
that some aspects of his Colorado Springs research found in scattered 
sources did not appear in the Yugoslav-published Notes. Only by 
piecing together fragmentary information could the magnitude of his 
experiments be comprehended. 

Around 1928 O’Neill, by merest chance, had happened to see 
a legal advertisement in a New York newspaper announcing that six 
boxes placed in storage by Nikola Tesla would be sold by the storage 
warehouse for unpaid bills. Feeling that such material should be 
preserved, he went to the inventor and asked permission to try to 
obtain funds to reclaim the material. 

“Tesla hit the ceiling,” he recalled. “He assured me he was well 
able to take care of his own affairs. ... He forbid me to buy them or do 
anything in any way about them.” 

Shortly after the inventor died, O’Neill got in touch with Sava 
Kosanovic, told him about the boxes, and urged him to protect them. 
He was never able to get a positive statement from Kosanovic that he 
had obtained the boxes and examined the contents. “He gave evasive 
assurances that there was no reason for me to worry. . . .” 

Others too were interested in the papers. A young American 
engineer engaged in war work consulted Tesla on a ballistics engineer- 
ing problem because he could not get time on an overworked 
computer; and Tesla’s mind was known to offer the nearest thing to it 
Soon he became fascinated with Tesla’s scientific papers and was 
allowed to take batches of them home to his hotel room where he and 
another American engineer pored over them each night They were 
returned the next day a procedure which continued for about two 
weeks prior to the inventor’s death. 

Tesla had received offers to work for Germany and Russia. 
After the inventor died, both engineers became concerned that critical 
scientific information might fall into foreign hands and alerted United 
States security agencies and high government officials. 

The relevant records that I have obtained from federal agencies 
under the Freedom of Information Act reveal strange twistings and 
inconsistencies in the handling of the inventor’s estate. Tesla left tons of 
papers, barrels and boxes full of them. But he left no will He was 


survived by five nieces and nephews, of whom two lived in America at 
the time of his death. 

Curiously the FBI released his estate to the Office of Alien 
Property which promptly sealed the contents. Since Tesla was an 
American citizen, the OAP’s concern in the matter was hard to justify 
After a court hearing, however, the estate was released to Ambassador 
Kosanovic, one of the heirs. 

Swezey, who also had hoped to write a biography of Tesla (his 
death intervened), received the following account in 1963 from a 
former aide of Ambassador Kosanovic’s: 

“Back in 1943 . . . when Tesla died, it was a matter of very short 
time when Mr. K was issued a certificate from or by the Office of 
Custodian of Alien Property conveying to Mr. K full rights to the Tesla 
papers. ... he had them all packed up and sent off to the Manhattan 
Storage Company where they remained until ready for packing and 
shipping off to Yugoslavia in 1952. Mr. K paid for storage charges. . . . 
All this time the certificate from the Alien Property Office was in my 
possession (in case of need). . . . 

“You will perhaps remember that a number of times Mr. K 
mentioned the fact that the custodian at the storage warehouse told 
him that some government guys were in to microfilm some of the 
papers. . . . when we opened the safe in the present museum building 
(in Belgrade, Yugoslavia) the bunch of keys, which was the last thing 
Mr. K. flung into the safe at the New Yorker Hotel before the 
combination was re-set to a new combination, were not found in the 
safe, but in an entirely different box. Also the gold medal (the Edison 
Medal) was missing from the safe. . . . Anyway for years and years Mr. 
K was bothered by the fact that Tesla papers had been gone thru and 
just before his departure from Washington in 1949-50(?) he decided 
to follow my suggestion to call Edgar J. Hoover [sic] and ask him. Mr 
Hoover denied categorically that the FBI had gone into the papers. . . 

The aide said Tesla had told his nephew that “he wished to 
leave his works, property, etc., to his native country” (Not only is this 
uncorroborated but the papers were in English.) 

Immediately after Tesla’s death an exchange of telegrams flew 
between FBI Agent Foxworth of the field division of the New York 
Bureau and the director of the New York Bureau of the FBI. The day 
following discovery of the' body Agent Foxworth reported: 

“Experiments and research of Nikola Tesla, deceased. Es- 
pionage— M. Nikola Tesla, one of the world’s outstanding scientists in 
the electrical field, died January seventh, nineteen forty three at the 


Hotel New Yorker, New York City. During his lifetime, he conducted 
many experiments in connection with the wireless transmission of 
electrical power and ... what is commonly called the death ray. 
According to information furnished by X [name deleted], New York 
City the notes and records of Tesla’s experiments and formulae 
together with designs of machinery ... are among Tesla’s personal 
effects, and no steps have been taken to preserve them or to keep 
them from falling into hands of people . . . unfriendly to the war effort 
of the United Nations. . . .” (The FBI was, however, advised by the 
office of Vice-President Henry A. Wallace that the government was 
“vitally interested” in preserving Tesla’s papers.) 

Bloyce D. Fitzgerald, “an electrical engineer who had been 
quite close to Tesla during his lifetime,” continued Foxworth, “advised 
the New York office that on January seventh, nineteen forty three, 
Sava Kosanovic, George Clark, who is in charge of the museum and 
laboratory for RCA, and Kenneth Swezey . . . went to Tesla’s rooms in 
the New Yorker [author’s note: the correct date would have been 
January 8], and with the assistance of a locksmith broke into a safe 
which Tesla had in his rooms in which he kept some of his valuable 
papers. . . . Within the last month, Tesla told Fitzgerald that his experi- 
ments in connection with the wireless transmission of electrical power 
had been completed and perfected. 

“Fitzgerald also knows that Tesla had conceived and designed 
a revolutionary type of torpedo which is not presently in use by any of 
the nations. It is Fitzgerald’s belief that this design has not been made 
available to any nation up to the present time. From statements made 
to Fitzgerald by Tesla, he knows that the complete plans, specifications 
and explanation of the basic theories of these things are some place in 
the personal effects of Tesla. He also knows there is a working model 
of Tesla’s, which cost more than ten thousand dollars to build, in a 
safety deposit box belonging to Tesla at the Governor Clinton Hotel, 
and Fitzgerald believes this model has to do with the so-called death 
ray or the wireless transmission of electrical current 

“Tesla has also told Fitzgerald in past conversations that he has 
some eighty trunks in different places containing transcripts and plans 
having to do with experiments conducted by him. Bureau is requested 
to advise immediately what if any, action should be taken concerning 
this matter by the New York Field Division.” 2 

Kosanovic later reported to Walter Gorsuch of the Office of 
Alien Property in New York that he first went to Tesla’s rooms with the 


other men to search for a will. After the safe was opened, Swezey took 
horn it a book containing the testimonials sent to Tesla on his seventy- 
fifth birthday, while Kosanovic took from the room three pictures of 
Tesla. According to the manager of the New Yorker Hotel and 
Kosanovic, nothing else was removed. The safe was closed under a 
new combination, which combination was in Kosanovic’s exclusive 

On January 9, Gorsuch of OAP and Fitzgerald went to the 
New Yorker Hotel and seized all of Tesla’s property, consisting of about 
two truckloads of material, sealed it and transferred it to the Manhattan 
Storage and Warehouse Company It was added to about thirty barrels 
and bundles that had been there since about 1934, and these too were 
sealed under orders of the OAP. 

In addition to the question of the legitimacy of Alien Property’s 
involvement in the case is the question of why Kosanovic was allowed 
to have access to the safe’s combination, from which he later claimed 
the Edison Medal had vanished. Tesla’s American naturalization 
papers, which he so prized that he always kept them in his safe, may 
now be seen at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade; but it is not known what 
other papers or objects were in the safe. 

The Washington Bureau of the FBI went so far as to advise the 
New York Bureau “to discreetly take the matter up with the State’s 
Attorney in New York City with the view to possibly taking Kosanovich 
into custody on a burglary charge and obtaining the various papers 
which Kosanovich is reported to have taken from Tesla’s safe.” New 
York was also told to contact the Surrogate Court so stops could be 
placed against all of Tesla’s effects, so that no one could enter them 
without an FBI agent being present, and New York was to keep 
Washington advised of all developments. 3 

The idea of arresting the Yugoslav ambassador was quickly 
dropped. And very soon the Washington headquarters made a curious 
decision. Edward A. Tamm of the FBI in Washington advised D. M 
Ladd of that Bureau that the whole matter was being turned over to 
the Custodian of Alien Property; and Tamm noted, “There appears to 
be no need for us to mess around in it” 4 

Soon the well-known electrical engineer Dr. John G. Trump, 
who was serving as a technical aide to the National Defense Research 
Committee of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, was 
asked to participate in an examination of Tesla’s scientific papers. 
Present at the Manhattan Warehouse & Storage Company in addition 


to Dr. Trump were Willis George, Office of Naval Intelligence, Third 
Naval District, Edward Palmer, chief yeoman, USNR, and John J. 
Corbett, chief yeoman, USNR 

Dr. Trump reported afterward that no examination was made 
of the vast amount of Tesla’s property that had been in the basement of 
the New Yorker Hotel for ten years prior to his death, or of any of his 
papers except those in his immediate possession at the time of death. It 
should be remembered that Tesla’s scientific reputation had been in 
eclipse for a number of years and that there had been many efforts to 
discredit his claims in radio, robotry, and alternating current Dr. Trump 
was a busy man, just as the staff of the FBI was stretched thin by its 
preoccupation with investigating wartime sabotage. 

“As a result of this examination,” wrote Dr. Trump, “it is my 
considered opinion that there exist among Dr. Tesla’s papers and 
possessions no scientific notes, descriptions of hitherto unrevealed 
methods or devices, or actual apparatus which could be of significant 
value to this country or which would constitute a hazard in unfriendly 
hands. I can therefore see no technical or military reason why further 
custody of the property should be retained.” 

He added: “For your records, there has been removed to your 
office a file of various written material by Dr. Tesla which covers 
typically and fairly completely the ideas with which he was concerned 
during his later years. These documents are enumerated and briefly 
abstracted in the attachment to this letter.” 

In closing Dr Trump said: “It should be no discredit to this 
distinguished engineer and scientist, whose solid contributions to the 
electrical art were made at the beginning of the present century, to 
report that his thoughts and efforts during at least the past fifteen years 
were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promo- 
tional character — often concerned with the production and wireless 
transmission of power— but did not include new sound, workable 
principles or methods for realizing such results.” 

The file (of which Dr. Trump’s notes were only an abstract) 
consisted apparently of either photostats or microfilm made by the 
naval officers present, and the original papers apparently remained in 
storage, later to be transmitted to Yugoslavia. The examination had 
failed to disclose any alien-owned property subject to the vesting 
power of the Alien Property Custodian under the Trading with the 
Enemy Act Tesla’s papers and personal effects were released in 


February of 1943 for disposition by Kosanovic, the administrator of his 

Dr. Trump’s abstract included the following: 

Art of Telegeodynamics, or Art of Producing Terrestrial 
Motions at Distance— This document, in the form of a letter dated 
June 12, 1940, to the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Co., 
proposes a method for the transmission of large amounts of power 
over vast distances by means of mechanical vibrations of the earth’s 
crust The source of power is a mechanical or electromechanical 
device bolted to some rocky protuberance and imparting power at a 
resonance frequency of the earth’s crust The proposed scheme 
appears to be completely visionary and unworkable. Westinghouse’s 
reply indicates their polite rejection. . . . 

“New Art of Projecting Concentrated Non-Dispersive Energy 
through Natural Media— This undated document by Tesla describes 
an electrostatic method of producing very high voltages and capable of 
very great power. This generator is used to accelerate charged 
particles, presumably electrons. Such a beam of high-energy electrons 
passing through air is the ‘concentrated nondispersive’ means by 
which energy is transmitted through natural media. As a component of 
this apparatus there is described an open-ended vacuum tube within 
which the electrons are first accelerated. 

“The proposed scheme bears some relation to present means 
for producing high-energy cathode rays by the cooperative use of a 
high-voltage electrostatic generator and an evacuated electron acceler- 
ation tube. It is well known, however; that such devices, while of 
scientific and medical interest, are incapable of the transmission of 
large amounts of power in nondispersed beams over long distances. 
Tesla’s disclosures in this memorandum would not enable the con- 
struction of workable combinations of generator and tube even of 
limited power, though the general elements of such a combination are 
succinctly described. 

“A Method of Producing Powerful Radiations — an undated 
memorandum in Tesla’s handwriting describing ‘a new process of 
generating powerful rays or radiations.’ This memorandum reviews the 
works of Lenard and Crookes, describes Tesla’s work on the produc- 
tion of high voltages, and finally in the last paragraph gives the only 
description of the invention contained in the memorandum. . . . ‘Briefly 
stated, my new simplified process of generating powerful rays consists 


in creating through the medium of a high-speed jet of suitable fluid a 
vacuous space around a terminal of a circuit and supplying the same 
with currents of the required tendon and volume.’” 

Long afterward in a letter to a colleague, Dr. Trump told what 
happened when he visited the Hotel Governor Clinton to examine the 
“device” stored in its vault, presumably the same box remembered by 
the messenger boy in Tesla’s room. 

“Tesla had warned the management that this ‘device’ was a 
secret weapon,” said Dr. Trump, “and it would detonate if opened by 
an unauthorized person. Upon opening the vault and indicating the 
package containing the secret weapon, Ihe hotel manager and em- 
ployees promptly left the scene” The federal agents who had come 
along also pulled back, the better to give him the sole distinction of 
opening the parcel. 

It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string. He 
remembered hesitating, thinking how beautiful the weather was out- 
doors, and pondering on why he was not outside too. 

He lifted the parcel onto a table and, mustering his courage, 
snipped the string with his pocket knife. He removed the wrapping. 
Inside was a handsome polished wooden chest bound with brass. It 
required a final effort of courage to reuse the hinged lid. 

Inside stood a multidecade resistance box of the type used for 
Wheatstone bridge resistance measurements— a common standard 
item to be found in every electrical laboratory before the turn of the 

Why had Tesla seen fit to terrify the staff and management of 
the hotel with this harmless object for so many years? Perhaps he had 
become so accustomed to having his hotel bills paid behind his back 
(believing that the hotels, honored to have him living there, had 
routinely dismissed the billings), that he was insulted when the 
Governor Clinton brashly demanded its $400. 

Although the FBI closed its Tesla file in 1943, it didn’t seem to 
want to stay closed. It was reopened in 1957 when an informant 
complained that a New York couple were issuing newsletters con- 
taining “information pertaining to flying saucers and interplanetary 
matter^’ and exploiting the inventor’s name and fame. They allegedly 
claimed that Tesla’s engineers, after his death, had completed a “Tesla 
Set,” a radio device for interplanetary communication, that the device 
had been placed in operation in 1950 and since then Tesla engineers 
had been in close touch with alien spaceships. Once again the FBI 
decided no action was warranted and the file was closed. 


Swezey had never put much credence in the “secret weapon” 
rumors and had written to an inquirer “Because Tesla was a recluse, 
and himself liked to talk in mystifying terms during his later years, I 
think many legends have been built up about the dozens of ideas he 
had evolved but which were not permitted by others to see the light of 

He said he had known the inventor well for two decades 
before his death: “Tesla’s greatest genius flamed up during a dozen or 
so years just before and slightly after the turn of the century. What he 
did after that may have carried the germs of some of the developments 
we are witnessing today, but he had not carried any of them — at least 
on paper or in any other tangible form— to the point of practicality. . . .” 

Perhaps, but between 1945 and 1947 an interesting exchange 
of letters and cables occurred among the Air Technical Service 
Command at Wright Reid, Ohio, in whose Equipment Laboratory 
much top-secret research was being performed, Military Intelligence in 
Washington, and the Office of Alien Property — subject, files of the late 
Nikola Tesla. 

On August 21, 1945, the Air Technical Service Command 
requested permission from the commanding general of the U.S. Army 
Air Force in Washington, D.C., for Private-Bloyce D. Rtzgerald to go to 
Washington for a period of seven days “for the purpose of securing 
property clearance on enemy impounded property.” 

On September 5, 1945, Colonel Holliday of the Equipment 
Laboratoryi Propulsion and Accessories Subdivision, wrote to Lloyd L. 
Shaulis of the OAP in Washington, confirming a conversation with 
Rtzgerald and asking for photostatic copies of the exhibits annotated 
by Trump from the estate of Tesla. It was stated-that the material would 
be used “in connection with projects for National Defense by this 
department,” and that all of it would be returned in a reasonable 
length of time. 

That was the last time that the Office of Alien Property or any 
other federal agency in the United States admitted to having posses- 
sion of Tesla’s papers on beam weaponry Shaulis wrote to Colonel 
Holliday on September 11, 1945, saying, “The materials requested 
have been forwarded to Air Technical Service Command in care of Lt 
Robert E. Houle. These data are made available to the Army Air 
Force by this office for use in experiments; please return them.” They 
were never returned. 

These were the full photostatic copies, not merely the abstracts. 
OAP has no record of how many copies were made by those who 


examined the files with Dr. Trump. The Navy has no record of Tesla’s 
papers; no federal archives have a record of them. 

Curiously, four months after the photostats had been sent to 
Wright Field, Col. Ralph Doty, the chief of Military Intelligence in 
Washington wrote James Markham of Alien Property indicating that 
they had never been received: “This office is in receipt of a communi- 
cation from Headquarters, Air Technical Service Command, Wright 
Held, requesting that we ascertain the whereabouts of the files of the 
late scientist, Dr Nichola [sic] Tesla, which may contain data of great 
value to the above Headquarters. It has been indicated that your office 
might have these files in custody. If this is true, we would like to request 
your consent for a representative of the Air Technical Service Com- 
mand to review them. In view of the extreme importance of these files 
to the above command, we would like to request that we be advised of 
any attempt by any other agency to obtain them. [Italics supplied.] 

“Because of the urgency of this matter, this communication will 
be delivered to you by a Liaison Officer of this office in the hope of 
expediting the solicited information.” 

The “other” agency that had the files, or should have had 
them, was the Air Technical Service Command itself! Colonel Doty’s 
letter, which was classified under the Espionage Act, was declassified 
on May 8, 1980. 

This embarrassing contretemps goes unexplained in the rec- 
ords. Perhaps it was handled orally with the Liaison Officer. 

However, on October 24, 1947, David L Bazelon, assistant 
attorney general and director of the Office of Alien Property wrote to 
the commanding officer of the /Mr Technical Service Command, 
Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, regarding the Tesla photostats that had 
been sent by registered mail on or about September 11, 1945, to 
Colonel Holliday, at the latter’s request. 

“Our records do not reveal that this material has been re 
turned,” said Bazelon. He sent a description and asked that it be 

Obviously at least one set of Tesla’s papers had reached Wright 
Field because on November 25, 1947, there was a response to the 
Office of Alien Property from Colonel Dufty chief of the Electronic 
Plans Section, Electronic Subdivision, Engineering Division, Air Mate- 
riel Command, Wright Field. He replied: “These reports are now in the 
possession of the Electronic Subdivision and are being evaluated. . ’’ 
He believed that the evaluation should be completed by January 1, 


1948, and “At that time your office will be contacted with respect to 
final disposition of these papers.” 

There is no written record that OAP ever sought further to have 
the documents returned, and they were not returned. 

For many years there have been rumors that these unpatented 
inventions or concepts of Tesla’s found their way not only to the U.S. 
Army Air Force but to Russia and to private American defense 
industries, and ultimately into certain university research laboratories 
engaged in beam weaponry. 

The Office of Alien Property experienced a very difficult 
problem over the years in explaining its role in connection with Tesla’s 
papers. Between 1948 and 1978 it issued the following variations on a 
theme to many inquirers: 

“While this Office participated in an examination of certain 
material owned by the late Dr. Tesla, our records do not disclose that 
any such material has been vested or is presently under the jurisdiction 
of this Office. . . .” 

“This Office has never had custody ... of any property of 
Nikola Tesla...” 

“While the Tesla papers were in our custody . .” 

“Photostatic copies of certain documents, made while the 
papers were under our seal. . . .” 

“In 1943 this Office placed a seal on the property. . . .” 

“While the Tesla papers were in our custody. . .” etc., etc., etc. 

As for what is now Headquarters Aeronautical Systems Divi- 
sion, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, they state: “The organiza- 
tion (Equipment Laboratory) that performed the evaluation of Tesla’s 
papers was deactivated several years ago. After conducting an exten- 
sive search of lists of records retired by that organization, in which we 
found no mention of Tesla’s papers, we concluded the documents 
were destroyed at the time the laboratory was deactivated.” 5 (Italics 
supplied. Response, under the Freedom of Information Act, dated July 
30, 1980.) 

Tesla’s original papers, and the remaining models of his 
inventions — his magnifying transmitter, robot boats, early tube light- 
ing, induction motors, turbine, exhibits shown at the Chicago World’s 
Fair of 1893, such as the “Egg of Columbus,” and others — left America 
in 1952 for Yugoslavia. His ashes were sent later. The artifacts may 
now be seen at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, a dignified-looking 
building with a broad, well-proportioned facade at No. 51 Proleterskih 


Biigada, an avenue renamed after the war, but formerly known under 
the monarchy as Crown Street The museum bears a plaque on a low 
wall, printed in the old Cyrillic alphabet 

Here Tesla’s English writings have been translated into Serbo- 
Croatian — except, as the archivist admits, for the “unimportant” 
material, which remains, just as he wrote it in the language of his 
adopted country 

The Legacy 

The fact that Tesla’s research notes and papers have not been easily 
available for western scientists has not, of course, meant that Teslian 
research is dead. On the contrary, the very mystery surrounding some 
of his unproved claims has served to goad numerous scientists into 
trying to duplicate his experiments. And since his aspirations were 
virtually limitless, there has always been a chance that the rewards of 
success would not be inconsiderable. But the single greatest stimulus 
to try to follow in Tesla’s footsteps doubtless remains the example of 
the man himself— his stunning record of achievement and the endur- 
ing fascination of his mind. As one admiring German writer put it, 
“Tesla went beyond the borders of his exact science to foretell what lies 
in the future ... a modem Prometheus who dared reach for the 
stars ....” 1 

Although a comprehensive summary of the state of Tesla- 
inspired research today would be beyond either the scope of this book 
or the intent of its author, no account of the inventor’s life would be 
complete without at least some indication of what has become of a few 
of his major preoccupations. The record, as one might expect, is both 
mixed and incomplete, but it is no less impressive for that 

To begin, then, with Tesla’s experiments with ball lightning: He 
had no idea what ball lightning might be useful for when he first 
encountered it in his Colorado Springs research; to him it was a 
nuisance, but it demanded an explanation. And so he set about 
determining the mode of formation of the strange fireballs and learned 
to produce them artificially. 

The technical explanation runs like this: In the highly resonant 
transformer secondary comprising his magnifying transmitter, the 
entire energy accumulated in the excited circuit, instead of requiring a 
quarter period for transformation from static to kinetic, could spend 
itself in less time, at hundreds of thousands of horsepower. Thus, for 
example, Tesla produced artificial fireballs by suddenly causing the 
impressed oscillations to be more rapid than free ones of the second- 


THE LEGACY <— » 282 

ary. This shifted the point of maximum electrical pressure below the 
elevated terminal capacity, and a ball of fire would leap great distances. 

Yet strangely enough, modem plasma physicists with the best- 
equipped laboratories, have failed to produce plasmoids with anything 
near the stability of the true ball-lightning spheres that he created 

Why the fascination with this problem? First, of course, 
because it is there, an unknown. But second because among other 
uses, it may hold a vital key in the international race to achieve 
controlled nuclear fusion— potentially the greatest power source in 
history Among those long interested in ball-lightning research are 
Peter Kapitza, the great Russian physicist, Lambert Dolphin and his 
colleagues in the radio physics laboratory at SRI International, Dr. 
Robert W. Bass of Brigham Young University, and Robert Golka, with 
whom Bass has collaborated on research. 

Golka, a Massachusetts physicist, Tesla disciple, and lightning 
experimenter, has pursued the ephemeral fireball with the fervor of a 
hunter of snarks. Like Tesla in Colorado, he has done his research 
alone in a remote western laboratory in the Utah salt flats, and like 
Tesla, he has struggled to win the kind of federal support that usually 
goes only to enormous institutions or corporations. 

In the largest hangar at the far end of the ghost base at 
Wendover, Utah, which was built by the U.S. Army Air Force during 
World War II, big spotlights are often burning as Golka conducts 
lightning tests. Here, under tightest security in the 1940’s, the B-29 
Enola Gay was housed and outfitted f or del’vering the first atomic 
bombs to Hiroshima. 

Golka made two trips *o the Tesla Museum to pore over the 
inventor’s then unpublished notes and concentrated on replicating as 
exactly as he could in the old air base hangar the magnifying 
transmitter that Tesla had built in 1899 when investigating the lightning 
storms of Pike’s Peak. 

“He [Tesla] was ’way ahead of anything we have today in the 
equipment he built,” Golka says. “Such as the high-powered switches 
and spark gap switches. The knowledge has been lost; we don’t know 
how he did it Some of it was in the diaries, but he kept much of this 
stuff in his head.” 

Golka built a magnifying transmitter at his “Project Tesla” that 
would discharge 22 million volts, creating almost twice as powerful a 
chain-lightning storm as the maestro himself had produced at Colo- 
rado Springs 

THE LEGACY <— » 283 

The relevance of ball lightning to fusion research has to do with 
the problem of confining plasma. The heart of the most common type 
of experimental fusion reaction involves taking isotopic hydrogen gas 
and both accelerating and superheating it until the hydrogen nuclei 
fuse to make helium nuclei, releasing, in the process, staggering 
amounts of energy. Along the way, while the hydrogen is being 
charged with vast amounts of kinetic and thermal energy, it enters an 
imperfectly understood material state known as plasma.* In the 
penultimate stages of the process, before fusion begins, the besetting 
problem is to maintain the plasma’s coherence, to confine it within 
some kind of invisible electromagnetic “bottle.”t 

Since the strongest geometric shape is a sphere, Golka believes 
that ball lightning offers the best potential for containment of the 
unstable mass. He describes the odd lightning as “a glowing sphere of 
a variety of colors, a half-inch in diameter or as big as a grapefruit,” 
and resembling an onion in its “layers and layers of alternate charged 
particles, positive and negative.” It may bounce along through build- 
ings, fall into water and set it boiling; and sometimes, as at the Hill Air 
Force Base in Utah, it may knock out the most sophisticated electronic 
equipment In the summer of 1978, with the use of CO-2 laser beams, 
he finally managed to produce “bead” lightning, which he believes to 
be a form of ball lightning, and to photograph it in sequential frames. 2 

He then sought support from the U.S. Department of Energy 
for a major program of research for which he proposed to use a device 
called a pyrosphere, employing five laser beams to create ther- 
monuclear fusion. In a “Fireball Fusion Reactor” only nonradioactive 
helium is created and, according to Golka, mathematical models 
indicate it can reach and hold temperatures above a billion degrees. 

He also proposed to the Air Force another Teslian concept, a 
charged particle beam, but again one designed to employ laser 
technology. Such beam guns, he believes, would have a range of 

*Until recent years plasma had no major Industrial importance but was merely a 
laboratory curiosity. Richard L Bersln, executive vice president of International 
Plasma Corpi, believes that the first practical application of plasmas came in the 19th 
century when “the glowing plasma produced by a Tesla coil was used to locate leaks 
in glass vacuum flasks.” 

tTeslian ideas ate also involved in other aspects of fusion research. Superconducting 
magnetic coils, cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero, are used in magnetic 
containment devices; and, in a newly developed rival process, hydrogen fuel pellets 
are oemg bombarded by high-energy particle beams. 

THE LEGACY <— > 284 

6,000 miles and could melt and destroy ICBM-type missiles in the air. 
With a Tesla coil three times the size of his combined coils, Golka 
believed he could generate 200 million volts of electricity 

But he inherited the usual Teslian problems of a loner, and as 
he said, “The walls fall in on me when I work for corporations.” His 
work reached a point where it could no longer progress with im- 
provised equipment, but called for enormous investments. His com- 
petitors were large corporations and leading universities engaged in 
the nuclear-fusion race; and even some of the latter were being cut off 
from their federal grants. They too were deeply into laser technology, 
although Golka claims his system is different and unique. By no means 
the only scientist to have attempted to carry forward Tesla’s work with 
ball lightning, he undoubtedly has been one of the most 

Russia’s Kapitza, who shared the 1978 Nobel Prize in physics 
with Amo Penzias and Robert W. Wilson of America for his work in 
magnetism and the behavior of matter at extremely low temperatures, 
acknowledges his debt to Tesla. “The efficient generation of super- 
high-frequency oscillations and their conversion back to direct-current 
electrical energy” he writes, “discloses possible solutions to the 
problem of transmitting electrical energy ... in free space. The 
transmission setup will, of course, be similar to that already considered 
but, instead of a wave guide, a highly directional beam must be used, 
which, as is well-known, only at short wavelengths will diverge little. 
Such a setup for the transmission of electrical energy, firstly thought by 
N. Tesla many years ago, has already been discussed. . . . Although . . . 
possible in principle, it is tied up with the solution of a series of 
complicated engineering problems and therefore it can be imple- 
mented in practice only in such special situations in which other 
methods of energy transmission are inapplicable (for example, when 
energy must be supplied to a satellite).” 3 

In this field of wireless energy transmission, so directly con 
cemed with the space race, there is progress nearer home. Richard 
Dickinson, who heads the Microwave Power Transmission project for 
Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the desert near Barstow, 
California, traces his inspiration to the early work of Tesla. The concept 
of bringing electricity to Earth from an orbiting solar-power system via 

♦Lambert Dolphin says of Golka’s replica of the Colorado Springs Tesla coil: “It is 
spectacular indeed, to either scientist or layman. 1 hope it ends up in a museum such 
as the Smithsonian where it can be appreciated” He too is a proponent of further 
research in ball lightning. 

THE LEGACY <— ► 285 

microwaves is daring, costly, romantic, and thoroughly in the style of 
the maestro. 

“We beamed power from our transmitter at Goldstone a 
distance of one mile,” Dickinson said of the NASA project initiated in 
the mid-seventies. “All of the microwave energy that fell within our 
target (of which we could only collect a portion with our existing 
apparatus), we converted 82.5 percent to useful direct current Thirty- 
four thousand watts of direct current output carried a distance of one 
mile. We are well pleased. The next step is to look further into the 
technology and needs of the satellite power system of the future.” 4 

William C. Brown of the Raytheon Company, who developed 
the rectenna used in this microwave-power research, also attributes the 
idea of sending electricity by radio waves to Tesla’s pioneering in the 
fundamentals of radio broadcasting and wireless power transmission. 

Theoretically, a city the size of New York could be supplied 
with five billion watts on a winter day by enormous satellite structures 
in the sky that would orbit synchronously with Earth at a height of 
22,300 miles. But admittedly, the cost of such floating power stations 
would be many billions of dollars, and they would be highly vulnerable 
to enemy killer satellites, in the event of war 

Brookhaven National Laboratory located just to the northeast 
of Tesla’s old Wardenclyffe site at Shoreham, also feels a close link with 
tire inventor through the advanced high-energy work being conducted 
at the laboratory. In 1976 it paid homage to him in a ceremony, and 
the Yugoslav government sent a plaque to be placed at the still- 
standing Wardenclyffe laboratory. 

Canada, too, has long been a bastion of Tesla Energy System 
advocates, and because of the country’s rich hydroelectric sources, 
through-the-Earth transmission— if it worked— could be a boon to 
areas of power shortage. 

But— will it work? Several projects have been planned, and 
some partially implemented, in Canada, central Minnesota, and most 
recently in Southern California — to “pump” hydroelectric power 
wirelessly through the Earth to an area of need, employing the Tesla 
system as it is understood. 5 The U.S. Department of Energy has often 
been asked to fund projects based on Tesla’s system. 

Unfortunately there is no evidence that the system ever 
worked for Tesla, and none that it could work for anyone else. One of 
the inventor’s problems was that he improperly extended into the 
electromagnetic domain fluid and fluid-mechanical analogies. Tesla’s 
patent No. 787,412 provides for the Earth to be excited by a carefully 

THE LEGACY <— >• 286 

valued wavelength to establish a standing wave condition. Tesla 
believed the propagation path fell along a diameter. But according to 
much knowledge developed since 1899, the propagation path would 
not be along a diameter but, rather, along an ellipsoidal arc somewhere 
between the diameter and the spherical surface. 

A fundamental aspect of wave propagation of power is that no 
power is transmitted if the wave is standing; power is transmitted solely 
with a traveling component Boundary layer propagation, i.e., the 
mode of lossless propagation of waves at the boundary of two differing 
media (such as earth and sky), is a viable concept However, the 
boundary plane must be smooth and the waves must be properly 
launched. At the frequencies Tesla was using, such launching appara- 
tus would be an enormous structure. In examining the photographs of 
his experimental station at Colorado Springs, it is apparent to experts 
that he did not employ apparatus essential to the launching of such 

Tesla probably was mistaken at Colorado Springs in his 
interpretation of the lightning storms which he observed traveling away 
from him (eastwardly) across the plains, producing maxima and 
minima effects upon his instruments. This he interpreted as standing 
waves being set up in the Earth by the traveling storm, with the crests 
of the waves passing through his location as the storms advanced. It is 
believed he was seeing an interference effect caused by the reradiating 
surface of the frontal range of mountains to the east of his station. The 
results would have been the same on his instruments. 

Dr. Wait, formerly senior scientist at the Environmental Re- 
search Laboratories, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administra- 
tion, in Colorado, describes*himself as a “firm skeptic” of the Tesla 
theory “The concept that electromagnetic energy penetrates ‘through 
the earth,’” he says, “is valid only if the frequency is sufficiently low 
and if the distances are small. It’s all tied up with ‘skin-effect’ 
phenomena; that means that the field is confined to the surface of a 
good conductor as in metallic wave guide.” 6 

Dr. Wait even goes so far as to suggest that Tesla never really 
accepted the fact that electromagnetic waves could transport energy 
through the air. “Instead he thought of the earth itself as a conveyor 
and also thought of the possibility of a return conductor at heights of 
15 miles above sea level.’ The parallel of this idea to the earth- 
ionosphere wave guide at extremely low frequencies is striking (see 
IEEE Journals of Oceanic Engineering, Vol. OE-2, No. 2, April 1977). 
Also his proposed resonance of the system might be interpreted as the 
first disclosure of the earth-ionosphere cavity oscillations that have 

THE LEGACY <— ► 287 

been associated from the early 1960s with W. O. Schumann, N. 
Christofilos, and J. Galejs, among others.” 7 

With respect to wireless communication, the U.S. Navy’s 
Project Sanguine/Seafarer of recent years has evolved from Tesla’s 
Colorado experiments. In a thermonuclear war, conventional radio 
communication probably would be disrupted at certain heights and 
wavelengths. America’s atomic submarine fleet might then be without 
a means of receiving messages. The U.S. Navy, seeing this danger, 
turned back to Tesla’s nineteenth-century suggestion of employing 10 
Hz signals (ELF or extra low frequency), to circle the globe and 
penetrate the deepest waters. 

One of the headier speculations concerning Teslian science is a 
suggestion that Russia has been employing his theories on weather 
modification to interfere with the jet stream, causing droughts and 
extremes of hot and cold weather However unlikely the charge, it is 
true that Tesla did do a good deal of theorizing (but very little 
experimentation) on weather control. 

He wrote, for example, on the possible use of radio-controlled 
missiles and explosives to break up tornadoes and the use of “lightning 
of a certain kind” to trigger rainfall. Of the former he said, “It would not 
be difficult to provide special automata for this purpose, carrying 
explosive charges, liquid air or other gas, which could be put into 
action, automatically or otherwise, and which would create a sudden 
pressure or suction, breaking up the whirl. The missiles themselves 
might be made of material capable of spontaneous ignition.” His 
proposal included a lengthy mathematical formula. 8 

As with much modem scientific exploration inspired by the 
maestro, the returns are still not in on weather changing. Scientist 
Frederic Jueneman, “Innovative Notebook” columnist for Industrial 
Research magazine, calls attention to the fact that Dr. Robert Helliwell 
and John Katsufrakis of Stanford University’s Radio Science Labora- 
tory, demonstrated that very low frequency radio waves can cause 
oscillations in the magnetosphere. With a 20-km antenna and a 5 kHz 
transmitter in the Antarctic, they found that the earth’s magnetosphere 
could be modulated to cause high energy particles to cascade into our 
atmosphere, and by turning the signal on or off they could start or stop 
the energy flow. 

“The theoretical implication suggested by their work,” says 
Jueneman, “is that global weather control can be attained by the 
injection of relatively small ‘signals’ into the Van Allen belts — some- 
thing like a super-transistor effect.” 

But Jueneman’s speculations go further and are eminently 

THE LEGACY <— > 288 

worthy of Tesla: “If Tesla’s resonance effects, as shown by the Stanford 
team, can control enormous energies by miniscule triggering signals, 
then by an extension of this principle we should be able to affect the 
field environment of the very stars in the sky... With godlike ar- 
rogance, we someday may yet direct the stars in their courses.” 9 

No biography of Tesla would be complete without mention of 
his bright following of amateur physicists who build Tesla coils for their 
personal research, endeavoring to replicate his electrical magic; and 
the young inventors who pore over his basic patents and still find 
inspiration from them. 

Durlin C. Cox, a Wisconsin physicist who has pondered Tesla’s 
published writings, has built two Tesla coils, the second of 10 million 
volts. The reasons: “My own personal interest in high voltage engineer- 
ing, especially in the field of high frequency rf transformers; to further 
my studies on the laboratory production of ball lightning; and because 
the University of Wisconsin at Madison asked me to submit a Tesla coil 
in their bi-annual Engineering Exposition in the spring of 1981.” He 
and friends built one Tesla coil for a Hollywood studio for lightning 
effects, which has been a common use of them. 

Electrical engineer Leland Anderson has summarized the 
major points in design that a coil builder might gain from reading 
Tesla’s Colorado Springs Notes: 

1. The Q’s of the primary and secondary must be as high as 

2. The Q’s of the primary and secondary should be equal. 

3. The length of the secondary winding should be one-quarter 
of the effective operating wavelength. 

4. The technique of using an “extra coil” tank circuit (or a 
variation of it) in the secondary to magnify the voltage should be used. 

“With these criteria in mind,” he says, “the builder will find that 
hundreds of turns are not necessary for the secondary winding to 
achieve high voltages.” 

Last but not least, what about Tesla’s death/disintegrator rays? 
Were his concepts sound? If they were found useful by the U.S. Army 
Air Force research team, whose top-secret project was rumored to 
have had the code name “Project Nick,” it may be safely assumed that 
instead of being “destroyed,” as reported, his papers are still highly 

Dr. Trump’s evaluation and Swezey’s assessment of Tesla’s 
“secret weapons?’ have, however, received updated concurrence by 

THE LEGACY «— > 289 

Lambert Dolphin, assistant director of the Radio Physics Laboratory at 
SRI International, who has studied the inventor’s work and his ball- 
lightning research for two decades. He points out that the fields of 
knowledge of both physics and electrical engineering have grown 
exponentially since about 1930. 

“Whole libraries are now required just to keep track of all the 
theory and experience that have unfolded since Tesla’s time,” he says. 
“Our mathematical and practical understanding of electricity, magne- 
tism, electromagnetic theory, and radio communications has con- 
tinued to grow explosively ever since 1950, or should I say 1970!” 

Tesla, Dolphin believes, “may have had intuitive insight into 
lasers and high-energy particle beams as well as ultra-high voltage 
phenomena, but now that we understand all the physics much more, 
we can easily evaluate many of his extravagant later-life claims.” 10 

In fact, there is no good evidence to suggest that Tesla 
anticipated lasers. His “teleforce rays?’ seem to have been concerned 
exclusively with high-energy particle beams. We still do not know 
precisely how he intended them to work, although, says Dolphin, the 
available evidence suggests that Tesla may not have paid sufficient 
attention to how greatly such beams may be absorbed or dispersed by 
molecules and atoms in the air. In any case, even if we did understand 
Tesla’s intentions more clearly, we should be hard put to compare 
them to the current state of the art, much of which is hidden under 
high security classifications. 

Nevertheless, Tesla’s work with high voltages to accelerate 
charged particles does seem to have been decidedly in what is now the 
mainstream of physical research. “In this field,” says Dolphin, “he 
anticipated modem linear and circular nuclear accelerators. Such 
machines today have energy levels of tens of billions of electron volts or 
at least 1,000 times greater energy levels than Tesla ever attained. 

“I am sure his magnifying transmitters were spectacular. ... He 
probably generated some interesting arcs and sparks that were what 
we now study as plasmas. The containment of plasmas is a huge area 
of modem physics. For example ... to see if small amounts of matter 
can be turned into immense amounts of electrical power in carefully 
contained plasmas.” But Tesla’s early discoveries and inventions, he 
concludes, were indeed ingenious and ahead of their time. 11 

As this book goes to press, the Pentagon is studying the 
creation of a new branch of the armed services, to be known as the 
U.S. Space Command, whose primary arsenal will consist of laser and 
particle-beam weapons fired from “space battleships.” In prose not 

THE LEGACY <— ► 290 

unlike Tesla’s own, a Department of Defense fact sheet compares 
particle beams to “directed lightning bolts?’ — although without ex- 
plicitly admitting that such a weapon has in fact been developed. 

It is difficult to assess the current state of the beam-weapons 
program because virtually everything about it is heavily classified 
Apparently the technology involved has proved to be complex and 
difficult, raising questions about the project’s feasibilty, but many 
experts nevertheless seem to be hard at work on the problem. At the 
same time, the activities of the other nations in this area have been 
monitored carefully by agencies of the federal government Indeed the 
possibility of creating a family of particle-beam weapons has been a 
subject of serious discussion in this country for at least the past twenty- 
five years, and it is, in my opinion, of no Me significance that as long 
ago as 1947 the Military Intelligence Service identified the writings 
about a particle-beam among Tesla’s scientific papers as being “of 
extreme importance.” 

Since he had no laboratory in the later years of his life, Tesla 
was unable to develop his ideas. But it is undeniable that he described 
in general terms half a century ago what may prove to be one of the 
main weapons of the Space Age. And to the end of his days, Tesla the 
pacifist hoped that such knowledge would be used, not for war among 
Earthlings, but for interplanetary communication with our neighbors in 
space, of whose existence he felt certain. 

Bibliographical Essay 

Some of Tesla’s own writing— lectures, articles, patents, papers, and 
letters — is now available in the United States. His most important 
lectures and his brief autobiography in bound volumes, are listed in 
the prologue to the reference notes. 

Citation of biographies of Tesla by O’Neill, Hunt, and Draper, 
and others may be found in the reference notes. The O’Neill man- 
uscript and the Swezey Collection are to be found at the Smithsonian 
Institution, Dibner Library. 

Serious Tesla scholars will wish to consult the annotated Dr. 
Nikola Tesla Bibliography by J. T. Ratzlaff, and L I. Anderson (San 
Carlos, California, Ragusan Press, 1979), for it contains some 3,000 
sources of writings by and about Tesla. “Priority in the Invention of 
Radio, Tesla v. Marconi,” by Leland Anderson may be obtained 
through the Antique Wireless Association, Monograph New Series No. 

A new means of analyzing Tesla’s inventions is provided in Dr. 
Nikola Tesla: Selected Patent Wrappers from The National Archives, 
by J. T. Ratzlaff (Millbrae, Ca., Tesla Book Co., 1980). These “flit 
wrapper^ provide explanations and correspondence between the 
patentee and the Patent Office, to overcome objections raised by the 

Tesla’s Colorado Springs Notes, 1899-1900, published ii 
1978 by the Tesla Museum, is available through Nolit, Terazije, 2 n 
Belgrade, Yugoslavia. 

The Library of Congress Manuscripts Division contains micro 
film correspondence between Tesla and George Scherff, Robert 
Underwood Johnson, Mark Twain, members of the Morgan family, 
George Westinghouse, and the Westinghouse Electric and Manufac- 
turing Company. 

In addition original correspondence and photographs may be 
found at the Butler Library, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Columbia 
University including letters between Tesla and Johnson, Scherff, and 



others The New York Public Library and the Engineering Societies 
Library, New York, have additional materials— the latter a large 
collection on legal proceedings for infringement of Tesla’s AC patents. 

Insights to the heyday of Amencan invention and scientific and 
industrial growth are available in many publications our perhaps most 
colorfully in Matthew Josephson’s Edison (New \ork McGraw-Hill 
Book Co., 1959) and The Robber Barons (New York, Harcourt, Brace 
& World, Inc., 1934, 1962), Ronald W. Clark’s Edison (New York. G D 
Putnam’s Sons, 1977), Robert A. Conofs A Streak of Luck (New Yon 
Seaview Books, 1979). 

See also Robert Silverberg’s Edison and the Power Inaustry, 
(Princeton, N.J., D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc., 1967), The Electric 
Century 1874-1974, reprint from Electrical World, McGraw-Hill, 1973; 
“Edisonian Vignettes,” IEEE Spectrum, Vol. 15, No. 9 (September 
1978); Francis Jehl, “Menlo Peak Reminiscences,” The Edison In- 
stitute, Dearborn, Mich., 1939, Vol. II, p. 839-840; Alfred O. Tate, 
Edison’s Open Door (New York, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1938); 
Daniel JL Kevles, The Physicists, (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1978); W. 
A. Swanberg, Citizen Hearst, (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 
1961); Bernard Baruch, Baruch, My Own Story, (New York, Henry 
Holt & Co., 1957); Margaret L. Coit, Mr. Baruch, (Boston, Houghton 
Mifflin Co., 1957); Henry G. Prout, A Life of George Westinghouse, 
(New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922, 1971) 

Rebecca West’s Black Lamb, Gray Falcon (New York, Viking, 
1940, 1941) is a westerner’s first-person classic among many works 
attempting to sort out the complex pre-WWII history of the Yugoslavs. 
For an intimate recent view of an immigrant's life, Slovene Immigrant 
History by Ivan Molek, translated from the manuscript, Over Hill and 
Dale, by Mary Molek (M. Molek, Inc., P.O. Box 453, Dover, Del., 
19901). On the Communist revolution, Memoir of a Revolutionary by 
Milovan Djilas (New York, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973). 

Reference Notes 

Tesla’s lectures and his own writings are to be found in the following: 

Nikola Tesla, Lectures , Patents, Articles, Nikola Tesla Museum, 
1956, reprinted 1973 by Health Research, Mokelumne Hills, California 
95245; lectures in part in Thomas Commerford Martin’s Inventions, 
Researches and Writings of Nicola Tesla, originally published in 1894 in 
The Electrical Engineer, New York, and republished 1977 by Omni 
Publications, Hawthorne, California 90250. See also: “My Inven- 
tions,” Tesla’s autobiography (which appeared originally in the Electri- 
cal Experimenter, May, June, July, October, 1919), republished by 
Skolska Knjiga, Zagreb, Yugoslavia, 1977, with the Nikola Tesla 

Included in the first two volumes are these important lectures: 
“A New System of Alternate Current Motors and Transformers,” 
American Institute of Electrical Engineers, New York, May 16, 1888, 
describing his polyphase system of alternating current; “Experiments 
with Alternate Currents of Very High Frequency and Their Application 
to Methods of Artificial Illumination,” AIEE, Columbia College, May 
20, 1891; “Experiments with Alternate Currents of High Potential and 
High Frequency,” IEE, London, February 3, 1892; repeated before 
Royal Institution, London, February 4; and again February 19 in Paris 
before the Societe Internationale des Electriciens and the Societe 
Francaise de Physique. In these he introduces the Tesla coil for high- 
frequency, high-voltage research effects. 

They also include “On Light and Other High Frequency 
Phenomena,” February 24, 1893, before the Franklin Institute in 
Philadelphia, and again in St. Louis before the National Electric Light 
Assn., March 1. Here he covered the principles of radio communica- 


tion. “Mechanical and Electrical Oscillators,” August 25, 1893, before 
the International Electrical Congress at the World’s Fair, Chicago. “On 
Electricity,” at the Ellicott Club, Buffalo, to commemorate Niagara Falls 
power, January 12, 1897. “On the Streams of Lenard and Rontgen, 
with Novel Apparatus for Their Production,” before the New York 
Academy of Sciences, April 6, 1897. “High Frequency Oscillators for 
Electro-therapeutic and Other Purposes,” before the Electrotherapeu- 
tic Association, Buffalo, September 13, 1898. 

Tesla’s Colorado Springs Notes, 1899-1900, published in 
1978 by the Tesla Museum in Yugoslavia, is available through Nolit, 
Terazije, 27, Belgrade, Yugoslavia. 

Chapter 1 Modem Prometheus 

1. John JL O’Neill, Prodigal Genius, (New York, David McKay Co., 1944), pp 93 — 
95, 283; Inez Hunt and W. W. Draper, Lightning in His Hand (Hawthorne, Calif, 
Omni Publications, 1964, 1977), pp. 54-55. 

2. Microfilm letters, Twain to Tesla, Library of Congress, n.d. 

3. Chauncey McGovern, “The New Wizard of the West,” Pearson’s Magazine, 
London, May 1899. 

4. O’Neill, Genius, p. 158. 

Chapter 2 A Gambling Man 

1. Nikola Tesla, “My Inventions,” Electrical Experimenter, May June, July October 
1919, republished by Skolska Knjiga, Zagreb, Yugoslavia, 1977, p 30. 

2. Ibid, pp 30-31. 

3. Ibid., p. 26. 

4. Ibid., pp 8-9. 

5. Ibid., p 17. 

6. Ibid, p. 18. 

7. Ibid., p 9-10. 

8. Ibid., p 10-12. 

9. Ibid., p 12-13. 

10. Ibid, p 12. 

11. Ibid. p. 13. 

12. Ibid., p. 13. 

13. Ibid., p. 14. 

14. Ibid., p. 16. 

15. Ibid., p 14. 

16. Ibid., p 35-6. 

17. Ibid. 

18. O’Neill, Genius, pp. 36-7. 


19. Tesla, “Inventions” p 41 

20. Nikola Trbojevich, Spomenica (Anniversary Booklet of the Serb National 
Federation), 1901-51, Pittsburgh, Pa., p 172. Source: Immigrant Archives, 
University of Minnesota Library 

21. Tesla, “Inventions,” p 18. 

Chapter 3. immigrants of Distinction 

1. Tesla, “Inventions,” pp 42-4. 

2. Ibid., p 43. 

3. Ibid., p. 44. 

4. Kenneth M. Swezey, “Nikola Tesla,” Science, Vol. 127, No. 3307 (May 16, 
1956), p 1148. O’Neill, Genius, pp. 48-51. 

5. Tesla, “Inventions,” p 46. 

6. Ibid., p 46. 

7. Ibid., p 48. 

8. Ibid., p 50. 

9. Ibid, p. 50. 

Chapter 4. At the Court of Mr. Edison 

1. Matthew Josephson, Edison, (New York, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1959). 

2. Ibid. 

3. O’Neill, Genius, p 60. 

4. Tesla, “Inventions,” p 51. 

5. Ibid., p. 54. 

6. O’Neill, Genius, p. 64. 

7. Josephson, Edison, pp 87-88. 

8. New York Times, October 19, 1931. 

9. Josephson, Edison . 

10. O’Neill, Genius, p. 64. 

11. Matthew Josephson, The Robber Barons, (New York, Harcourt, Brace & 
World, Inc., 1934, 1962). 

12. Ibid. 

13. O’Neill, Genius, p. 64; Electrical Review, New York, August 14, 1886, p 12. 

14. O* Neill, Genius, p 66. 

Chapter 5 The War of the Currents Begins 

1. Electrical Review, May 12, 1888, p 1; “Nikola Tesla,” Swezey, p. 1149; O’Neill 
Genius., pp. 67-68. 

2. O’Neill, Genius, p. 69. 

3. B. A. Behrend, Minutes, Annual Meeting American Institute of Electrical 
Engineers, New York, May 18, 1917, Smithsonian Institution. 

4. Josephson, Edison . 

5. Ibid., p. 346. 

6. Ibid., p 346. 

7. Ibid., p 349. 

8. Ibid., p 347. 

9. Ibid. p. 349. 


10. Josephson, The Robber Barons. 

11. Ibid 

12. Ibid. 

13. O’Neill, Genius, p. 84. 

14. Ibid., p. 81. 

15. Ibid, p. 82. 

16. Speech, Institute of Immigrant Welfare, Hotel Biltmore, New York, May 12, 
1938, read in absentia. 

17. Letter to Tesla from Michael Pupin, December 19, 1891, Tesla Museum, 

18. Hunt and Draper, Lightning. 

Chapter 6. Order of the Flaming Sword 

1. “Experiments with Alternate Currents of Very High Frequency,” a lecture at 
Columbia College by Tesla on May 20, 1891. 

2. T. C. Martin, ed.: The Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla, 
(Hawthorne, California, Omni Publications, 1977), pp. 200-201. 

3. Ibid., p. 236. 

4. Ibid., pp. 245-64; also O’Neill, Genius, pp. 150-54. 

5. O’Neill, Genius, pp. 146-49. 

6. Ibid, pp. 152-53. 

7. Ibid., pp. 150-51. See also Tesla’s lecture of February 1892 before the Royal 
Society of Great Britain and the Society of Electrical Engineers of France, Paris. 

8. Martin, Inventions, p. 261. 

9. The Story of Science in America (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1967). 

10. Testimonial from Maj. Edwin H. Armstrong on Tesla’s seventy-fifth birthday, 
Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, n.d. 

11. Letter to Tesla from J. A. Fleming, 1892, Tesla Museum, Belgrade. 

12. O’Neill, Genius, p. 88. 

13. Nikola Tesla, “Massage with Currents of High Frequency,” Electrical Engineer, 
December 23, 1891, p. 697; Martin, Inventions, p. 394; O’Neill, Genius, p. 91; 
Nikola Tesla, Lectures, Patents, Articles, Nikola Tesla Museum, 1956; reprinted 
1973 by Health Research, Mokelumne Hills, California 95245, p. L-156, Lecture to 
American Electro-Therapeutic Assn., Buffalo, September 13, 1898. 

Chanter n . Radio 

1. Tesla, “Inventions,” p. 69. 

2. Ibid., p. 62. 

3. Letter from Sir William Crookes to Tesla, March 8, 1892, Tesla Museum, 
Belgrade, Yugoslavia. 

4. Tesla, “Inventions,” p. 80. 

5. Ibid., p. 81. 

6. Ibid., p. 82. 

7. O’Neill, Genius, p. 264. 

8. Tesla, “Inventions,” p. 62. 


9. O’Neill, Genius, pp. 131-34; United States Reports, Cases Adjudged in the 
Supreme Court of the United States, Vol. 320, Oct Term, 1942: Marconi Wireless 
Telegraph Company of America v. United States, pp. 1—80; L. I. Anderson, 
“Priority in Invention of Radio, Tesla v. Marconi Antique Wireless Assn., March 
1980, monograph; see also abbreviated translation, Voice of Canadian Serbs , 
Chicago, July 16, 1980. 

10. United States Reports, “Transcript of Record,” pi 979. Also: Anderson, 

11. Martin, Inventions, pp. 477-85. 

12. Paper by Tesla for birthday press conference, around 1938. See also lecture oy 
Tesla to American Electro-Therapeutic Assn., Buffalo, N. Y., Sept 13, 15, 1898. 

13. Martin, Inventions , pp. 486-93. 

Chapter 8. High Society 

1. Bernard Baruch, My Own Story, (New York, Henry Holt & Co., 1957). 

2. Julian Hawthorne Papers, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley 

3. Arthur Brisbane, “Our Foremost Electrician,” New York World, July 22, 1894, pi 
17. Also Electrical World, August 4, 1894, p 27. 

4. O’Neill, Genius. 

5. O’Neill, Genius , pp. 288-89. 

6. Hawthorne, Julian, Papers. 

7. Waldemar Kaempffert, “Electrical Sorcerer;” New York Times Book Reviews, 
February 4, 1945, pp. 6, 22. 

8. O’Neill, Genius, pi 167. 

9. Margaret Storm, Return of the Dove, (Baltimore, Maryland, Margaret Storm 
Publication, 1959). 

10. Tesla, “Inventions,” p. 78. 

11. Swezey “Nikola Tesla,” pi 1158. 

12. Hunt and Draper, Lightning , p 199. 

13. O’Neill, Genius, pp. 302-03. 

14. Ibid., p. 303. 

Chapter 9. High Road, Low Road 

1. Swezey "Nikola Tesla,” p 2. Also, O’Neill, Genius, pp 103-06 

2. Swezey “Nikola Tesla,” p. 3. 

3. B. A. Behrend, "Dynamo-Electric Machinery and Its Evolution ” Western 
Electrician, Seotember 1907. 

4. Tesla, “Inventions,” p. 63. 

5. O’Neill, Genius, pp. 238-43. 

6. Martin, Inventions, p. 292. 

7. Letter, Katharine Johnson to Tesla, February 1894, Tesla Museum, Belgrade, 

8. Letter, Tesla to Katharine Johnson, May 11, 1894, Rare Books & Manuscripts, 
Butler Library, Columbia University 

9. Letter, Katharine Johnson to Tesla, June 15, 1894, Tesla Museum, Belgrade, 


10. New York Times, March 14, 1895, p. 9; New York Herald , March 14, 1895, 
Electrical Review , March 20, 1895. 

11. Electrical Review, London, March 15, 1895, p. 329. 

12. Charles Dana, New York Sun, March 14, 1895, p. 6 (editorial). 

13. Letter, Katharine Johnson to Tesla, March 14, 1895, Tesla Museum, Belgrade 

Chapter 10. An Error of Judgment 

1. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Alfred Schmid, March 30, 1895, Library of Congress. 

2. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Alfred Schmid, April 3, 1895, Library of Congress. 

3. Michael Pupin, From Immigrant to Inventor, (New York, Charles Scribner’s 
Sons, 1922). 

4. Ibid.; see also Josephson, Edison , pp. 381-83; Nikola Tesla, “On Roentgen 
Rays,” Electrical Review, March 11, 1896, pp. 131-35. Same issue, “Tesla 
Radiographs,” p. 134; also March 18, pp. 146, 147; April 8, 1896, pp. 180, 183, 
186. See also Electrical World , March 28, 1896, 343-44. 

5. Pupin, Immigrant. 

6. Electrical Review, New York, April 14, 1897, p. 175; see also Nikola Tesla, 
Colorado Springs Notes, 1899-1900: commentaries, Aleksandar Marincic, p. 398, 
Tesla Museum, Belgrade. 

7. Letter, Prof Walter Thumm, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada, to Nick 
Basura, May 23, 1975, p. 2. 

8. Electrical Review, March 11, 18, April 8, 1896. 

9. Josephson, Edison, p. 382. 

10. Robert Conot, Streak of Luck (New York, Seaview Books, 1979). 

11. Letter, Dr. Lauriston S. Taylor to author, 1980. 

12. Tesla, “On Roentgen Rays,” p. A-31. 

13. New York Times, March 12, 1896, p. 9, col. 3. 

14. Nikola Tesla, “Tesla on Hurtful Actions of Lenard and Roentgen Rays,” 
Electrical Review, May 5, 1897, pp. 207-11. 

15. New York Herald, undated anonymous article written two years after Tesla’s 
laboratory fire of March 13, 1895. Butler Library, Columbia University. 

16. Ibid. 

Chapter 11. To Mars 

1. Letter, Katharine Johnson to Tesla, April 3, 1896, Tesla Museum, Belgrade, 

2. Letter, Katharine Johnson to Tesla, summer 1896, Tesla Museum, Belgrade, 

3. Letter, Robert U. Johnson to Tesla, January 10, 1896, Columbia University, 
Butler Library 

4. Microfilm letter, Robert U. Johnson to Tesla, October 25, 1895, Library of 

5. Letter, Tesla to Robert U. Johnson, March 13, 1896, Butler Library, Columbia 

6. Letter, Katharine Johnson to Tesla, December 26, 1896, Tesla Museum, 


7. Electrical Review, August 11, 1897; see also New York Sun, August 4, 1897. 

8. Anderson, “Priority” 

9. Electrical Review, August 11, 1897, p. X. See also New York Sun, August 4, 

10. Electrical Engineer, London, August 20, 1897, p. 225. From New York Journal, 
August 4, 1897, p. L 

11. Electrical Review, August 11, 1897; Electrical Engineer, New York, June 23, 
1897, pi 713. 

12. Electrical Review, August 11, 1897. 

13. Electrical Review, March 29, 1899, p. 197. 

14. Ibid 

15. Letter, Katharine Johnson to Tesla, January 12, 1896, Tesla Museum, 


16. O’Neill, Genius, ppi 161-62. 

17. A. L Benson, The World Today, Vol. XXI, No. 8 (February 1912). 

Chapter 12. Robots 

1. Mining & Scientific Press, January 15, 1898, p. 60. 

2. McGovern, “The New Wizard” 

3. Century magazine, “Tesla’s Oscillator and Other Inventions, pi 922, April 1895. 
See also Electrical Review, Volume 34, No. 13 (March 29, 1899). 

4. New York Times, January 6, 1898, p. 5, col. 5. 

5. Electrical Review, New York, January 5, 1898. 

6. W. A. Swanberg, Citizen Hearst, (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1961). 

7. Ibid 

8. Philadelphia Press, May 1, 1898 

9. Ibid 

10. Cdr. E. Jl Quinby USN Ret, "Communications: Encoded, Decoded, Codeless,” 
Dots and Dashes, Vol. 5, No. 1, Lincoln, Neb., January February, March 1976. 

11. Swezey “Nikola Tesla,” pp. 1155-56. 

12. O’Neill, Genius, 166-74. 

13. Microfilm letter, Mark Twain to Tesla, November 17, 1898, Library of Congress. 

14. Letter, Tesla to Katharine Johnson, November 3, 1898, Butler Library 
Columbia University 

15. N. G. Worth, “An Inquiry About Tesla’s Electrically Controlled Vessel,” 
Electrical Review, New York, November 30, 1898, p 343. 

16. Microfilm letter; Tesla to Robert U. Johnson, December 1, 1898, Library of 

17. “Science and Sensationalism,” Public Opinion, December 1, 1898, p. 684, 


18. Tesla, “Inventions,” p. 84, See also Electrical Experimenter, January, February, 
March, April, May 1919. 

19. Tesla, “Inventions,” ppi 84, 85. 

20. Ibid., pi 85. 

21. Ibid, pi 85. 

22. Letter, Tesla to B. F. Meissner; Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, 
September 29, 1915. 


23. Letter, Leland Anderson to Nick Basura, March 4, 1977. 

24. Ibid. 

25. New York Times , February 1, 1944, editorial 

26. Letter, Tesla to Leonard Curtis, 1899. 

Chapter 13 Hurler of Lightning 

1. O’Neill, Genius , pp. 175-76. 

2. Letter, Tesla to Katharine Johnson, March 9, 1899, Special Collections, Butter 
library Columbia University 

3. Letter, Tesla to Robert U. Johnson, March 25, 1899, Special Collections, Butter 
library Columbia University 

4. Tesla, “Inventions,” pp. 64-67; Electrical Experimenter, June 1919, pp. 112-76. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Tesla, Colorado Springs Notes , ppi 127-33, 165, Tesla Museum with Nolit, 
Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1978. 

7. Tesla, Colorado Springs Notes, ppi 167, 168; Leland L Anderson, 
“Wardenclyffe— A Forfeited Dream,” Long Island Forum, August, September 1968. 
See also The Teslian, November 1955, Butler library, Columbia University 

8. James R. Wait, “Propagation of ELF Electromagnetic Waves and Project 
Sanguine/Seafarer,” IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering, Vol OE-2, No. 2 (April 

9. Microfilm letter, George Scherff to Tesla, early 1899, library of Congress. 

10. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Scherff, April 13, 1899, library of Congress. 

11. Microfilm letter; Tesla to Robert U. Johnson, August 16, 1899, Library of 

12. Tesla, Colorado Springs Notes, pp. 127-33. 

13. Nicola Tesla, “Transmission of Energy Without Wires,” Scientific American 
Supplement, June 4, 1904, ppi 23760-1. (Reprint of Electrical World & 
Engineering, March 5, 1904; description of Colorado Springs experiments.) 

14. Ibid. See also O’Neill, Genius, pp. 179-8L 

Chapter 14. Blackout at Colorado Springe 

1. Tesla, “Transmission”; O’Neill, Genius, p. 180. 

2. Tesla, “Transmission”; Tesla, Colorado Springs Notes, p. 62. 

3. Ibid. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Tesla, Colorado Springs Notes. Microfilm letter, Tesla to George Westinghouse, 
January 22, 1900, Library of Congress. 

6. O’Neill, Genius, 183-87. 

7. Tesla, Colorado Springs Notes, p. 29. 

8. Nikola Tesla, Minutes of the Edison Medal Meeting, American Institute of 
Electrical Engineers, May 18, 1917, Smithsonian Institution. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Robert U. Johnson, August 16, 1899, Library erf 

11. Ibid. 

12. O’Neill, Genius, p. 189. 


13. Nikola Tesla, "The Problem of Increasing Human Energy,” Century magazine, 
June 1900, pi 210. 

14. Tesla, Colorado Springs Notes, pp. 368-370. 

15. Ibid. 

16. Nikola Tesla, “Talking With Planets,” Current Literature, March 1901, p. 359; 
also Colorado Springs Gazette, March 9, 1901, p. 4, col. 2. 

17. Colorado Springs Gazette, loc. dt 

Chapter 15 Magnificent and Doomed 

1. Tesla, Colorado Springs Notes, p. 367. 

2. Ibid., pi 370. 

3. Ibid. 

4. Microfilm letter, Tesla to George Westinghouse, January 22, 1900, Library of 

5. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Robert U. Johnson, early 1900, Library of Congress. 

6. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Jl Pierpont Morgan, November 26, 1900, Library of 

7. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Morgan, December 12, 1900, Library of Congress. 

8. Microfilm letter, Morgan to Tesla, February 15, 1901, Library of Congress. 

9. Anderson, “Wardenclyffe.” 

10. Ibid 

11. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Stanford White, September 13, 1901, Library of 

Chapter 16 Bldiculedt Condemned, Combatted 

1. Seattle Sunday Times, Don Duncan’s "Driftwood Days,” July 1972. 

2. Ibid 

3. Philadelphia North American, "Lord Kelvin Believes Mars Now Signalling 
America”; "Tesla Thinks Wind Power Should be Used More Now”; May 18, 1902, 
Mag. Sec. V. 

4. Ibid 

5. Philadelphia North American, n.d., Julian Hawthorne Papers, Bancroft Library 
University of California. 

6. Ibid 

7. Letter, Tesla to Hawthorne, n.d., Julian Hawthorne Papers, Bancroft Library 
University of California. 

8. New York Times, "Court Excuses Tesla,” October 16, 1902. 

9. Microfilm letter, Tesla to George Scherff, n.d., Library of Congress. 

10. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Jl Pierpont Morgan, April 8, 1903, Library of 

11. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Morgan, July 3, 1903, Library of Congress. 

12. Microfilm letter, Morgan to Tesla, July 14, 1903, Library of Congress. 

13. Letter, Richmond Pearson Hobson to Tesla, n.d. (referring to Hobson letter of 
May 6, 1902), Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Yugoslavia. 

14. Letter, Tesla to George Scherff, July 18, 1905, Butler Library, Columbia 

15. Conversation, L. Anderson and Dorothy F. Skerritt, March 24, 1955. 


16. Letter, Katharine Johnson to Tesla, n.d. Special Collections, Butler Library, 
Columbia University. 

17. Letter, Robert U. Johnson to Tesla, n.d., Special Collections, Butler Library, 
Columbia University. 

18. Letter, R. P. Hobson to Tesla, May 1, 1905, Tesla Museum, Belgrade, 

19. Letter, Katharine Johnson to Tesla, n.d., Tesla Museum. 

20. Letter, Tesla to Katharine Johnson, n.d., Tesla Museum. 

21. Letter, Katharine Johnson to Tesla, n.d., Tesla Museum. 

22. Letter, Tesla to George Scherff, October 26, 1905, Special Collections, Butler 
Library Columbia University 

23. Swezey “Nikola Tesla.” 

24. Letter, Tesla to George Westinghouse, January 11, 1906, Special Collections, 
Butler Library Columbia University 

25. Anderson, “Wardenclyffe.” 

26. Brooklyn Eagle , March 26, 1916. 

27. Anderson, “Wardenclyffe.” 

28. Electrical Experimenter, “U.S. Blows Up Tesla Radio Tower,” September 1917, 
pi 293; Literary Digest, “Spies & Wireless,” Spetember 1, 1917, p. 24. 

29. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Scherff, July 13, 1913, Library of Congress. 

30. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Morgan, July 13, 1913, Library of Congress. 

Chapter 17. The Great Radio Controversy 

1. Charles Sussldnd, Dictionary of American Biography, Suppi 3 (New York, 
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941-45), pp. 767-70. 

2. Wait, “Propagation of ELF Electromagnetic Waves” 

3. Anderson, “Priority” 

4. Ibid 

5. Ibid. 

6. Gen. T. O. Mauborgne, “Tesla the Wizard,” Radio-Electronics, February 1943 

7. Brooklyn Standard Union, May 12, 1910. 

8. Cdr. E. J. Quinby, letter to author, November 19, 1977. See also Quinby, 

“Nikola Tesla,” Proceedings, Radio Club of America, Fall 1971. 

9. Los Angeles Examiner, May 13, 1915, “Prof. Pupin Now Claims Wireless His 

10. Ibid 

11. Letter, Armstrong to Anderson, November 16, 1953, Butler Library Columbia 
University See also Edwin Armstrong, “Progress of Science,” Scientific Monthly, 
April 1943, pp. 378-8L 

12. Letter, Anderson to author, November 5, 1977. 

13. Haiaden Pratt, “Nikola Tesla, 1856-1943,” Proceedings of the IRE, September 

14. Dragislav L. Petkovic, “A Visit to Nikola Tesla,” Politika, Belgrade, April 27, 
1927, No. 6824. 

Chapter 18. Midstream Perils 

1. Joseph S. Ame? “Latest Triumph of Electrical Invention,” Review of Reviews, 
June 1901 


2. F. P. Stockbridge, “The Tesla Turbine,” The Worlds Work, March 1912, pp. 
534-48. See also Nikola Tesla, “Tesla’s New Method of and Apparatus for Fluid 
Propulsion,” Electrical Review & Western Electrician , September 9, 1911, pp. 
515-17; New York Times, “Tesla’s New Engine,” September 13, 1911. U.S. Patent 
Office: Patent 1,061,142, Fluid Propulsion, May 6, 1913; 1,061,206, Turbine, May 
6, 1913; 1,329,559, Valvular Conduit, February 3, 1920. 

3. Stockbridge, “Turbine.” 

Chapter 19. The Nobet AJJair 

1. Microfilm letter, J. P. Morgan Company to Tesla, May 25, 1913, Library of 

2. Microfilm letter, Tesla to J. P. Morgan, May 19, 1913, Library of Congress. 

3. Microfilm letter, Tesla to J P. Morgan, June 19, 1913, Library of Congress. 

4. Microfilm letter, Robert U. Johnson to Tesla, April 22, 1913, Library of Congress. 

5. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Robert U. Johnson, May 9, 1913, Library of Congress. 

6. Cleveland Moffett, “Steered by Wireless,” Tesla-Hammond correspondence, 
1910-1914, L Anderson collection; McClure’s Magazine, March 1914. 

7. “The Goldschmidt Radio Tower,” Electrical Experimenter, February 1914, p 
154. Same issue: H. Winfield Secor, “Currents of Ultra-High Frequency,” ppt 

8. New York Times, “Edison and Tesla to Get Nobel Prizes,” November 6, 1915, pi 
1, coL 4. New York Times, November 7, 1915, II, p 17, col. 3. 

9. Ibid. New York Times, November 7, 1915. 

10. New York Times, November 14, 1915. 

11. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Robert U. Johnson, November 29, 1919, Library of 

12. Literary Digest, “Three Nobel Prizes for Americans,” December 1915, p 1426. 

13. “The Nobel Prize,” Electrical World, November 13, 1915. 

14. O’Neill, Genius, p 229. 

15. Hunt and Draper, Lightning, p 170. 

Chapter 20. Flying Stove 

1. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Westinghouse Company July 7, 1912, Library of 

2. “Teslin Ventilni Vod 9 1 F/uidika Prol Tugomir Surina, Symposium Nikola Tesla, 
Yugoslavia, 1976. 

3. Warren Rice, “An Analytical & Experimental Investigation of Multiple Disc 
Pumps & Turbines,” Journal of Engineering for Power. Trans. ASME Vol. 85, 

Series A, No. 3, (July 1963), Paper No. 62-WA-191, pp 191-98; also Vol. 87, 
Series A. No. 1, (January 1965), Paper No. 63-WA-67, pp 29-36. See also ASME 
Transactions of 1970’s. 

4. SunWind Ltd., Newsletter No. 10, March 12, 1979, Sebastopol, Cali£ 95472. 

5. Tesla letter to New York Times, September 15, 1908. See also New York Herald 
Tribune, July 12, 1927, “Tesla Predicts Fuelless Plane.” 

6. Tesla, New York Times, September 15, 1908. 

7. New York Times, “Tesla Gets Patent on Helicopter-Plane,” February 22, 1928, 
p 18, coL 4. Science & Invention, June 1928, p 116. 


8 . Review, The Yugoslav Monthly Magazine, July-August 1964, ‘‘Helicopter i* 
Hansom Cab Days,” pp. 31-33. 

9. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Scherff, July 1, 1909, Library of Congress. 

10. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Scherff, n.d., Library of Congress. 

11. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Scherff, October 15, 1918, and Scherff to Tesla, 
October 1918, Library of Congress. 

12. Letter, Tesla to Anne Morgan, March 31, 1913, Tesla Museum, Belgrade, 

13. Letter; Anne Morgan to Tesla, May 3, 1913, Tesla Museum, Belgrade, 

14. Letter, Tesla to Anne Morgan, May 7, 1913, Tesla Museum, Belgrade, 

15. Letter, Anne Morgan to Tesla, April 26, 1926, Tesla Museum, Belgrade, 

16. Letter; Katharine Johnson to Tesla n.d., Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Yugoslavia 

Chapter 21. Radar 

1. New York Times, March 18, 1916, p. 8, col. 3. 

2. Speech by Millikan at Chemists Club, New York, October 7, 1928. 

3. The Royal Bank of Canada, Monthly Letter, Vol. 59, No. 11 (November 1978). 

4. New York Times, December 8, 1915, pi 8, col. 3, See New York Herald, April 
15, 1917. 

5. Dr. Emil Girardeau, “Nikola Tesla, Radar Pioneer,” translation from the French, 
presented at Nikola Tesla— Kongress, Vienna, September 1953. 

6. Ibid. See also, Nikola Tesla, “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy” 
Century magazine, June 1900, ppi 208-09; New York Times, “America’s Invisible 
Airplane,” September 7, 1980, p. 20 E 

Chapter 22 The Ouest of Honor 

1. O’Neill, Genius, pi 230. 

2. Ibid., p. 231. 

3. Minutes, Edison Medal Meeting, American Institute of Electrical Engineers, May 
18, 1917, Smithsonian Institution. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Ibid. 

7. Petkovic, “A Visii tc Nikola Tesla. 

8. Letter, Tesla to Scherff, March 3, 1918, Butler Library, Columbia University 

9. Letter, Scherff to Tesla, June 23, 1916, Butler Library, Columbia University. 

10. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Scherff, October 15, 1918, Library of Congress. 

11. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Robert U. Johnson, December 27, 1914, Library of 

12. Microfilm letter, Robert U. Johnson to Tesla, December 30 1919 Library o 1 

13. Letter, Katharine Johnson to Tesla, n.d., Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Yugoslavia 


Chapter 23 Pigeons 

1. Microfilm letter, Tesla to E. M. Herr, president of Westinghouse, November 13, 
1920, Library of Congress. 

2. Microfilm letter, Westinghouse Electric Company to Tesla, November 28, 1921, 
Library of Congress. 

3. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Westinghouse Electric Company, 1921, Library of 

4. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Westinghouse, January 22, 1922, Library of Congress. 
Also February 23 and March 11, 1922. 

5. Microfilm letter, Tripp to Tesla, early 1922, Library of Congress. 

6. “Hundredth Anniversary Nikola Tesla — and Ivan Mestrovic,” Enjednlcar, Serbian 
Cultural Society Education, Croatian Serbs, Zagreb, Yugoslavia, April 11, 1956, ppi 
1 - 2 . 

7. “Secanja na Teslu Kenet Sulzia,” (“Kenneth Swezey’s Recollections of Nikola 
Tesla”) Tes/a— Belgrade, IV (1957), 38 t 39, pp. 45-48. 

8. K. M. Swezey, “Nikola Tesla,” Psychology, October 1927, p. 60. 

9. Nikola Tesla, “A Story of Youth Told by Age,” Smithsonian Institution. 

10. O’Neill, Genius, pp. 309-10. 

11. Ibid., pp. 311-12. 

12. Ibid., pp. 315-17. 

13. Jule Eisenbud, “Two Approaches to Spontaneous Case Material,” Journal of 
American Society for Psychic Research, July 1963. 

14. Ibid. 

15. Ibid 

Chapter 24. Transitions 

1. Detroit Free Press, August 10, 1924, Feature sec., pi 4. See also, Collier's, 

“When Woman Is Boss,” January 30, 1926. 

2. Collier's, op. dt 

3. Ibid. 

4. Microfilm letter, Johnson to Tesla, April 9, 1925, Library of Congress. 

5. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Johnson, June 3, 1925, Library of Congress. 

6. Letter, Johnson to Tesla, spring 1926, Butler Library Columbia University 

7. Letter, Tesla to Johnson, April 6, 1926, Butler Library Columbia University 

8. Letter, Johnson to Tesla, 1926, Butler Library, Columbia University 

9. Colorado Springs Gazette, May 30, 1924, p. 1. 

10. Microfilm letter, Tesla to Johnson, 1929, Library of Congress. 

Chapter 25. The Birthday Parties 

1. Kaempffert, “Electrical Sorcerer.” 

2. “Tesla at 75,” Time, July 20, 1931, pp. 27, 30; New York Times, July 5, 1931, 
II., p. 1; “Tesla, Electrical Wizard,” Montreal Herald, July 10, 1931; “Father of 
Radio, 75,” Detroit News, July 10, 1931; Kosta Kulisic, “Sedamdesetpetogodisnjica 
Nikole Tesle,” Politika, Belgrade, July 11, 20, 21, 1931. 

3. Time, July 20, 1931. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Ibid. 


6. Ibid. 

7. Ibid. 

8. Nikola Tesla, “Our Future Motive Power,” Everyday Science and Mechanic h, 
December 1931, p. 26. 

9. Letter, Prof. Warren Rice to author, September 5, 1980. 

10. Dr. Gustave Kolischer, “Further Consideration of Diathermy and Malignancy,” 
Archives of Physical Therapy, X-Ray, Radium, Vol. 13, (December 1932), pp 

Chapter 26 Corks on Water 

1. Letter, Tesla to Viereck, April 7, 1934. 

2. Letter, Tesla to Viereck, December 17, 1934. 

3. Nikola Tesla, “A Machine to End War,” Liberty Magazine, February 1935. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Ibid. See also, New York Sun, “Invents Peace Ray— Tesla Describes Beam of 
Destructive Energy,” July 10, 1934; New York Times, “Tesla ... Bares New ‘Death 
Beam’” July 11, 1934; Time, “Tesla’s Ray,” July 23, 1934; New York Herald 
Tribune, July 11, 1934; New York World Telegram, July 10, 1937. 

7. Letter, Tesla to New York Times, “Tribute to King Alexander,” October 21, 1934, 
IV, p. 5. 

8. Microfilm letter, Tesla to J. P. Morgan, November 29, 1934, library of Congress. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Microfilm letter, Kintner to Tesla, April 5, 1934, Library of Congress. 

11. Letter, Dr. Albert J. Phillips to author, February 10, 1979. 

12. Ibid. 

13. Microfilm letter, Johnson to Tesla, n.d., Library of Congress 

14. Microfilm letter, Johnson to Tesla, n.d., Library of Congress. 

15. Microfilm letter, Johnson to Tesla, n.d. (mid-1930’s), library of Congress. 

16. Microfilm letter, Johnson to Tesla, n.d., Library of Congress. 

17. O’Neill, Genius, p. 313. 

18. Microfilm letters, Westinghouse Company to Tesla, April 29, 1938, library of 
Congress. See also: Nikola Tesla. Spomenica povodom njegove 80 godisnjice. 
Livre commemoratif a I’occasion de son 80eme anniversaire. Gedenkbuch 
anlasslich seines 80sten Geburtstages. Memorandum book on the occasion of his 
80th birthday Belgrade, Priredilo i izdalo Drustvo za podizanje Instituta Nikole 
Tesle; Belgrade, Edition de la Societe pour la fondation de I’Institut Nikola Tesla, 
136, 519 pp. (tributes in original languages in which written). 

Chapter 27. Cosmic Communion 

1. Nikola Tesla, unpublished paper, 1936, part appears in New York Herald 
Tribune, July 9, 1937, “Tesla Devises Vacuum Tube Atom-Smasher.” Nikola Tesla, 
“German Cosmic Ray Theory Questioned,” letter to New York Herald Tribune, 
March 3, 1935. See also, "Tesla, 79 ... New Inventions,” New York Times, July 7, 
1935, II. p. 4. 

2. “Tesla Has Plans to Signal Mars.” New York Sun, July 12, 1937, p. 6; “Sending 
Messages to Planets,” New York Times, July 11, 1937, II, p 1; Detroit News, July 
11, 1937. 


3. Ibid, New York Sun. 

4. Science News, April 30, 1977, Vol. III. 

5. New York Herald Tribune, July 11, 1937; New York Times, July 11, 1937, II, p 


6. William L. Laurence, New York Times, September 22, 1940, II, p. 7. 

Chapter* 28 Death and Transfiguration 

1. Peter II, King of Yugoslavia, A King's Heritage, (New York, Putnam, 1954). See 
also, The Balkans, Life World Library, (New York, Time, Inc., 1964). Yugoslavia , 
Background Notes, Department of State Publication 7773, Rev. February 1978, 
U.S. Government Printing Office. M. Djilas, Memoir of a Revolutionary (N.Y., 
Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973). 

2. New York Times, January 9, 1945, May 1, 1945, June 7, 1947. 

3. Letter, Plot Bogdan Raditsa to author, February 19, 1979. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Peter II, A King's Heritage. 

7. Ibid. 

8. Letter, Professor Raditsa to author. 

9. Letters, Charles Hausler to Leland I. Anderson, April 12, July 16, 1979. 

10. Report of Death, Office of Medical Examiner of the City of New York, January 

8. 1943. See also, New York Times, January 8, 1943, p. 19; New York Herald 
Tribune, January 8, 1943, p. 18; New York Telegram, January 8, 1943, p 36; New 
York World, January 8, 1943, p. 36; New York Sun, January 8, 1943; New York 
Journal American, January 8, 1943; New York Times, editorial, January 8, 1943, 

p 12. 

11. New York Herald Tribune, January 11, 1943. 

12. Ibid. 

Chapter 29. The Missing Papers 

1. Formal agreement of International Electrotechnical Commission, Munich, June 
29, July 7, 1956. See also Swezey, “Nikola Tesla.” 

2. FBI memorandum, New York Agent Foxworth to director, New York Bureau. 
FBI, January 9, 1943. 

3. FBI Memorandum, D. M. Ladd to E. A. Tamm, Washington, January 11, 1943. 

4. Handwritten notation, Edward A. Tamm to D. M. Ladd, on memo of January 

11. 1943. 

5. Letter, Headquarters, Aeronautical Systems Division, Wright-Patterson Air Force 
Base, to author, July 30, 1980. 

Chapter 30 The Legacy 

1. Lambert von Ing. Binder, “ Portrat eines Technomagiers, Mensch und Schicksal, 
(Mankind and Destiny) January 15, 1952, Wien, Austria, pp. 3-5. 

2. Robert Golka, “Project Tesla,” Radio-Electronics, February 1981. See also, 
Charles Hillinger, “Lightning as New Energy Source, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 
1979; San Francisco Chronicle-Examiner, May 20, 1979; R. K. Golka and R. W. 
Bass, “Tesla’s Ball Lightning Theory,” presented at Annual Controlled Fusion 
Theory Conference, May 4-6, 1977, San Diego, California; Reed Blake, “The 


Wizard of Wendover,” Mountain West, November 1977, pp. 26-29. 

3. P. L. Kapitza, “High Power Electronics,” Russian periodical, (Jspekhi Fizicheskifd. 
Nauk, Vol. 78, (November 2, 1962), pp. 181-265; Life Magazine, June 16, 1961. 
See also, Jerzy R. Konieczny, “New Weapon ‘X’— Ball Shaped Thunders (Globula* 
Fireballs),” Polish periodical, Wojskowy Przeglad Lotniczy, November 2, 1963, pp. 

4. New York Times, October 10, 1975, p. 40 L See also, Peter E. Glaser, ‘Solar 
Power from Satellites,” Physics Today, February 1977, p. 30-37. 

5. ‘Tesla Coil Almost Ready;” St Cloud (Minnesota) Daily Times, August 19, 1977, 
pp. 1, 19, 20. See also, R. J. Schadewald, “Power Could Be Dirt Cheap,” 
Minneapolis Star, June 6, 1978; Yvonne Baskin, “Power from Earth,” San Diego 
Union, July 23, 1980, ppi A-l, A-12. 

6. Letter, James R. Wait to author, November 14, 1979. 

7. James R Wait iEEF Spectrum, Vol. 16, No. 8 (August 1979), Book Reviews, p. 

8. Nikola Tesla, “Breaking Up Tornadoes,” Everyday Science and Mechanics , 
December 1933, pp. 870-922. See also, Nikola Tesla, Minutes of Edison Medal 
Meeting , AIEE, May 26, 1917, Smithsonian Institution, p. 29. 

9. Frederic Jueneman, “Innovative Notebook,” Industrial Research, February 1974. 

10. Letter, Lambert Dolphin to author; September 15, 1980. 

11. Ibid 

Postscript: End of a Paper Chase 

Since the foregoing chapters were written and the proofs read 
and corrected, the disposition of Tesla’s “missing” scientific papers, 
originally held by the Office of Alien Property has become known to 

I have learned that a substantial classified Tesla file is contained 
in the third of three libraries at a well-known defense research agency 
One library is open to the public, the second is semi-restricted, and the 
third contains material seen only by members of the intelligence com- 
munity Tesla’s ideas contained in the research papers so urgently 
requisitioned by military intelligence in 1947 have indeed continued to 
be of great interest 

When the Tesla Museum in Belgrade published The Colorado 
SpringsNotes, 1899-1900, in 1978, intelligence officers at the said U.S. 
defense research agency at once made a careful comparison of both the 
Serbo-Croat and English editions against their classified files for that 
period in Tesla’s life. What they found, I am reliably told, is that the Slavs 
had omitted mainly practical Teslian ideas that might prove patentable. 
His fundamental research in wave propogation, radio and power trans- 
mission, and ball lightning, however, was found to be substantially the 
same in the Notes as in the U.S. intelligence file. 

But the file apparently contains much more than the Notes. It 
almost certainly contains the complete papers from which the Trump 
abstract, portions of which were quoted earlier; was derived. It undoubt- 
edly contains the papers that the two young American engineers pored 
over night after night in a hotel room in the weeks just before Tesla’s 
death. It probably contains the work papers which John J. O’Neill said 



were removed from his home by federal agents and which he was 
subsequently unable to trace. 

What else may be in that intriguing file, I do not know. Nor do I 
withhold the name of the research agency possessing it merely to 
tantalize the reader, my only reason for doing so is that the U.S. 
government has deemed the material imoortant to national security and 
has been at great pains to conceal its existence. 

Today applications of scientific knowledge are being made at a 
dizzying rate. Shall we meet Nikola Tesla once again when we are 
farther down the road? I am sure of it 


Abaft (book), 10 

AC, see Alternating current 

Acupuncture, 94 

Adamic, Louis, 265-67 

Adams, Edward Dean, 44, 98, 99, 109, 133 

Aerospace “Harrier,” 202 

Air conditioning, 203 

Air Technical Service Command, 277-78 


automated, 129 
small motor for, 219 
Tesla’s design for, 198, 201-3 
Wright’s, 200-1 

Aircraft industry, Tesla’s prediction of, 89 
Alabama Consolidated Coal & Iron 
Company 204 

Albert, Prince ( later King of the Belgians), 
121, 191 

Alexander I (King of Yugoslavia), 195, 

Alexanderson, E F. W., xvi, 180, 266 
Alley Dickenson V. (photographer), 154 
Allis Chalmers Manufacturing Company, 198 
Alsace 25 

Alternating current (AC), 18-19, 22-25, 31, 
35, 36-49, 60, 251 
at Columbian Exposition, 70, 72, 74 
“war” between DC and, 38-50, 53, 71, 

Westimjhouse buys Tesla’s patents for, 40, 

Westinghouse wants system of converting 
of, to DC, 120 

Westinghouse’s original system of, 23, 38 
Alternators, 60-61, 181, 194 
Aluminum Company of America, 88-89 
American Academy of Arts and Letters, 192 
American & British Manufacturing Company 

American Electrician (periodical), 105 
American Institute of Electrical Engineers 
(AIEE), 50, 89, 238, 269 
Edison Medal of, 214-19, 227, 271, 27? 
EUiott-Cresson Medal of, 89 
Tesla’s lectures to, 23, 39, 52 ; 59n 
American Smelting and Refining Company 

Ames, Joseph S., 186-87 

AND circuits, 130-31 
Anderson, Leland, xvi, 130-31, 176, 177, 
181, 182, 288 
Antheus, 55 


TesTa’s, 36 
Archimedes, 23 
Arco, Count von, 239 
Aristotle, 149 

Armstrong, Edwin H., 59, 69, 181-82, 266 
Army Air Force, U.S., 277-79, 288 
Arthritis, 73 

Astor, John Jacob, 81, 123, 132-34, 139, 156 
Atlantic Communication Company 179, 181, 

Atom-smasher; see Cyclotron 
Atomic energy Tesla on, 210, 240, 253 
Audion, 52, 91, 177 
Aura, human, 93-94 
Aurora borealis, 56 
Austrian Polytechnic School, 18 
Automation, see Robots 
Automobile speedometer, 191, 219 

Bacon, Sir Francis, 225 
Baily, Walter, 42 

Ball lightning, 149-50, 154, 281-83, 284n, 
See also Lightning 

Balloons for Colorado Springs experiments, 

Bardeen, John, 130, 131 

Barker (professor), 164 

Barron, Clarence W., 46 

Barton, W. H., 266 

Baruch, Bernard, 77 

Bass, Robert W., 282 

Batchelor, Charles, 25-26, 29, 30, 44 

Baumgartner, Walter, 199 

Bayles, Thomas R., 173 

Bazelon, David L, 278 

Beans, see Death rays 

Beckhard, Arthur, biography by xiii-xiv 

Becquerel, Henri, 56, 59 

Behrend, B. A., 39, 90, 214-17, 238 

Anthony Susan B., 109 
Anthony, William A., 39, 45 
Arago, Frangois, 42, 149 
Arbus, Muriel, xv, 80 186, 187, 
Arc lights, 82 


INDEX <— » 312 

Belgium, Tesla turbine in, 191 
Belgrade (Yugoslavia), 258 
Tesla in, 6b 

Tesla Museum and Institute in, xiii, 203, 
224, 240, 251, 258, 260, 270, 271, 

Benes, Eduard, 255, 257 
Benson, Allan L, 116-17 
Bernhardt, Sarah, 28, 86 
Bersin. Richard L., 283n 
Billiards, 19, 25 

Blindness, X rays as supposed cure for, 102 
Boats, remote-controlled, 123-25, 128-31, 
161, 165-66, 173, 181, 193 
Bohr, Niels, 149 
Boldt, George C., 174 
“Boodle,” 47 

Boundary layer propagation of waves, 286 
Bradley. Charles S., 42 
Bragg, W. L, 197 

Bragg, Sir William Henry, xvi, 197, 210, 239 
Brant Rock (Mass.), 180 
Brattain, Walter H., 130, 131 
Braun, Carl F., 174, 176 
Breit, Gregory, 58 
Brentano, I. C. M.. xvi 
Bridgeport (Conn.), Tesla laboratory in, 220 
Brisbane, Arthur, 78 
British Marconi Company, 156 
British Postal Telegraph System, 99 
Brookhaven National Laboratory 152-53, 

Brooklyn Dodgers, 33 

Brooklyn Eagle , 169, 173 

Broughton, H. P., 68 

Broughton, William G., 68 

Brown, A. K., 36-37, 40, 98 

Brown, Harold P. “Professor,” 45, 53 

Brown, William C., 185 

Bryce, James 121-22 

Budapest (Hungary), 21 

Budd, E. G., Manufacturing Company, 199 

Buddhism, 109, 244-45 

Buffalo (N.Y.), 88, 110 

Busch, Noel F., 101 

Butler, Nicholas Murray, 262 

Camphor, Tesla’s aversion to, 9-10 
Canadian Power Commission, 235 
Carbon-button lamp, 55-59 
Carmen, James D., 35 
Carnegie, Andrew, 123, 157 
Carnegie Institution, 58 
Cars, automated, 129 
Cataract Construction Company, 44, 98 
Central Electric, 31 

Century magazine, 108, 128, 153, 155, 168, 
178, 192, 208 

Cervera y Topete. Pascual, 125-26 
Charged particle beams, 246, 248, 283-84 

See also Death Rays 
Chester, Franklin, 78 

Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair, 1893), 
43, 53, 70-75, 88, 269 

Chicago (cont’d.) 

Museum of Science and Technology 269 
Tesla in (1917). 214, 219 
Christofilos, N., 287 
Churchill, Marguerite, 235 
Churchill, Winston, 261, 262 
Cisneros, Miss, 122 
Clark, George, 272 
Cleveland, Grover, 70, 71 
Coast Defense and Fortification Bill, 160 
Coffin, Charles A., 46, 47 
Cohen, Louis, xvi 
“Cold fire,” 74 
Colliers magazine, 232-33 
Colorado Springs (Colo.), Tesla’s laboratory 
^ xiv, 13, 132-51, 153-54, 167-68, 

ColoradoSprtn^s Notes (Tesla), 147, 269-70, 

Columbia , ’S.S., 26 

Columbia College (University), 29, 42, 57, 
69, 79, 95 

interplanetary and interstellar, 111-12, 114, 
150, 155, 162, 24041, 252-53, 255, 

by radio, see Radio 

by waves through Earth, 117-18, 285-87 
Commutators, 18, 23, 25 
Compton, Arthur H., 57, 238. 266 
Computer technology Tesla’s basic patents 
in, 130-31 

Condenser, discharge of, 60 
Consolidated Electric Light Company 47 
Continental Edison Company 24, 26 
Convair XFY-1, 202 
Copper degasification, 24849 
Corbett, John I, 274 
Cornell Un*ersity. 29, 39 
Corsair (yacht), 29, 35, 122 
Cosmic rays, 51, 55-5/, 59, 252 
Cox, Durlin C., 288 
Crawford, Marion, 94 

Crawford and Simpson (drygoods firm), 132, 

Croatia, 6, 17, 24647 
Tesla in, 6-20,41, 64-66 
in World War II, 258-62, 266 
Crookes, Sir William, 53, 64, 94, 113, 128, 
171, 275 
Crow, W. D., 159 
Cryogenic engineering, 152-53 
Crystal detectors, 69, 91 
Curie, Marie, 56 
Curie, Pierre, 56 
Curtis, Leonard, 131-33, 167 
Cyclotron (atom-smasher), 51, 57-58 
Czechoslovakia, 17, 255, 257 
Czito, Julius C., 188, 227, 228 
Czito, Holman, 80, 96, 133, 139, 14344, 

Dales, Gardner H., 89 
Dana, Charles A., 96 
Dante’s Inferno , 135 
D’Arsonval, Jacques Aisene, 73 

INDEX <— » 313 

Dartmouth College, 101 

DC, see Direct current 

Death rays, 235, 236, 246, 248, 272, 288 

DeForest, Lee, 91, 177, 238 

Dempster (engineer), 180 

Depew, Chauncey, 121 

Deprez, Marcel, 42 

Detroit Free Press , 232 

Dewar, Sir James, 63 

Dewey, George, 140 

Diathem^ 61, 73-74, 107, 127, 166, 168, 

Dickinson, Richard, 284-85 
Direct current (DC) 

challenged by AC, 18-19, 24, 33, 38-50, 
53, 88, 89 

Westinghouse wants system of converting 
AC to, 120 
Dirigible torpedo, 193 
Disintegrator rays, see Death rays 
Disruptive discharge coil, 72 
Dolphin, Lambert, 282, 284n, 289 
Doty Ralph, 278 
Dozier, Joseph, 135, 150 
Draper, Wanetta, see Hunt, Inez 
Duffy (colonel), 278 
Dunn, Gano, xvi, 266 
Dvorak, Anton, 84 

Earrings, Tesla’s aversion to, 9, 85 

Hz. resonance of, 138, 287 
Tesla and splitting of, 117 
Earthquakes, prevention of, 117 
Edison, Thomas Alva, 21, 26, 27-34, 77, 


ability to go without sleep, 31 
on energy shortages, 162 
later life of 166 

Magnetic Ore Separator of 125 
Marconi and, 14o 

Tesla and, see Tesla, Nikola— Edison and 
Tesla’s methods compared to those of 12, 

Westinghouse challenged by, 41-45 
in World War I, 207, 209, 210-11 
X-ray research of 100, 102, 104, 166 
Edison Effect, 90-91 
Edison Electric Light Company (Edison 
General Electric Company; Edison 
Electric Company), 28, 29, 38, 46 
Edison Machine Works, 27 
Edison Medal, 214-19, 227, 271, 273 
Edward, Prince ( later King Edward VII of 
England), 121n 

Einstein, Albert, 103, 210, 238, 240, 252 

Eisenbud, Jule, 229-31 

Electric clocks, 61. 72 

Electric dog on wheels, 193 

Electrical Age (periodical), 164 

Electrical Congress (1893), 74 

Electrical Engineer, The (periodical), 46, 67 

Electrical Exhibition (1898), 123-25, 133 

Electrical Experimenter (periodical). 136 208 

Eectrical Exposition (1896), 102 

Electrical Journal (periodical), 10b 

Electrical Review (periodical), 87, 102, 105, 
110-13, 120, 128 

Electrical World (periodical), 96, 107 
Electrical World and Engineer (periodical), 

Electrician, The (periodical), 50 
Electricity, Tesla’s explanations of 52, 59, 

Electricity (periodical), 89 
of animals, 43-45 
at Sing Sing, 45 

Electromagnetic radiation, 60, 103, 138 

discovery of 60, 103 
Tesla on, 254 

ELF (extra-low frequency), 138, 209, 287 
Elliott-Cresson Meaal, 89 
Energy, universal, see Tesla, Nikola — 
universal-energy ideas of 
England, see Great Britain 
English Mechanic & World of Science 
(periodical), 200 
Enola Gay (bomber), 282 
Ether, 52 
Eugenics, 245 
Eulalia, Princess, 72 

Everyday Science & Mechanics (periodical), 

Faraday, Michael, 19, 39, 60, 63, 72 
FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), 265, 
271-74, 276 

Ferdinand, Archduke Francis, 194 
Ferraris, Galileo, 50 
Ferris, G. W., 71 

Fessenden, Reginald A., 176, 180 
Field, Jacob, 77 
Filipov, Luka, 83, 95 

Fire in New York laboratory 96, 101, 106, 

Fireballs, 3-4 

See also Ball lightning; Lightning 
Fitzgerald, Bloyce C., 272, 273 
Fitzgerald, Francis A., 235 
Flat-spiral coils, 112 
Fleming, Sir John A., 59, 90, 91, 199 
Fluid diode, 199 
Fluorescent lights, 53 
Fluoroscopes, 102 
Fog produced by Tesla, 148 
Foord, John 95 
Forbes, George, 89 

Fbtic, Konstantin 225, 255, 257, 259, 266 

Fotic, Pola, 225 

Fbxworth (FBI agent), 271-7 2 


Tesla’s lectures in 55, 59 n, 63, 64 
See also P&ris 
Franck, James, 266 
Franklin, Benjamin, 72 
Franklin Institute, 68, 141 
Freedom of Information Act, xiv, 270, 279 
Frick, Henry Clay, 171, 172 
Furnace, high-frequency 215 
Fusion research, 283 

INDEX <— » 314 

Galejs, Jl, 287 

Gaulard-Gibbs, AC patents, 23, 38 
Geissler tube, 101 

General Electric Company 42, 46, 47, 99, 

lawsuits against, 89 
Niagara Falls and, 88, 89, 110 
transatlantic wireless of, 180 
General Enertech, 200 
George, Willis, 274 
George VI (King of England), 261 
Geothermal steam plant, 241-42 
See also Tidal energy 

Tesla ships his turbine to, 191 
Tesla’s patents in, 98. 193 
See also World War I; World War II 
Gemsback, Hugo, 80, 239, 265 
Gertz, Elmer, 269 

Ghosts, hypersensitive vacuum tube for 
detection of, 94 

Gibbs, Lucien, see Gaulard-Gibbs 

Gilder, Richard Watson, 192n 

Girardeau, Emil, 213, 214 

Goethe’s Faust , 22 

Goldis, Mark, 199-200 

Goldschmidt alternator, 194 

Golka, Robert, 136, 282-84 

Gorsuch, Walter, 272-73 

Gould, Jay, 76 

Gramme Machine, 18 

Gravity, Tesla’s theory of, 252 

Graz (Austria), Tesla’s studies in, 18, 22 

Great Britain, Tesla’s lectures in, 55, 59n, 63 

Great Depression, 235, 248-50 

Guided weapons, see Remote control 

Hammond, John Hays, Sr., 133 
Hammond, John Hays, Jr., 193 
Harriman, Edward H., 76 
Hausler, Charles, 264 
Havemeyer, Henry O., 156 
Hawthorne, Julian, 28, 78, 80, 152, 162-63 
Hearst, George, 84 
Hearst, William Randolph, 121, 122 
Hegeman, George, 158 
Helliwell, Robert, 287 
Helmholtz, Hermann von, 72, 74 
Henry, Joseph, 29, 72 
Hertz, Heinrich, 60, 138, 179 
Hertzian telegraphy, 171-72 
Hess, Victor F., 59 
Hewitt, Edward R., 101 
Hill Air Force Base (Utah), 283 
Hoadley, Joseph H., 35, 204 
Hobson, Richard Pearson, 84, 122, 125-28, 
165-66, 169-70, 222-23, 250, 254 
Holden, Agnes Johnson, 115, 1122, 234, 252 
Holden, Edward S., 150, 151, 162 
Hollfday (colonel), 277, 278 
Hoover, J., Edgar. 271 
Horses, Tesla and, 135, 138 
Houle, Robert E., 277 
Houstin, Edwin J, 102 
Hungary, Tesla in, 21-24 
Hunt, Inez, and Draper, Wanetta, Lightning 
in His Hand, xiv 

Hyland, Lawrence H., 213 
Hyperthermia, see Diathermy 

IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering, 286 
Induction coils, 54, 60, 73 
Induction motors, 160 
See also Alternating current 
Industrial Research (periodical), 287 
Institute of Electrical and Electronics 
Engineers, 182n 

Institute of Immigrant Welfare, 256 
Institute of Radio Engineers, 182, 269 
Institution of Electrical Engineers, 59 n, 63 
Insull, Samuel, 45 

International Electrotechnical commission, 


International Niagara Commission, 98 
International Plasma Corp., 283n 
Interplanetary and interstellar 

communication, 111-12, 114, 150, 155, 

Italy 191 

Jackson, Helen Hunt, 84 

Jefferson, Joseph, 3-5, 94, 120 

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Cal Tech), 284 

Jews, Tesla’s attitude toward, 127n 

John Scott Medal, 267 

Johns Hopkins University, 186, 187 

Johnson, E. H., 43 

Johnson, Katharine, 2, 82-83, 94-97, 108-9, 
114-15, 127, 133, 162, 168, 170-71, 
195, 206, 220-21 
last illness of, 232-35 
Johnson, Robert Underwood, 1-2, 79, 

82-85, 94, 100, 108, 125, 127, 128, 
153, 1.62, 170, 171, 195, 224, 234-35 
death of, 250 
letter from, 168 

letters to, 120, 140, 146, 157, 160, 185, 
220, 234 

resignation from Century by 192-93 
Joliot, Frederic, 56, 59 
Joliot-Curie, Irene, 56, 59 
Journal of the American Society for Psychical 
Research , 229 

Jovanovich, Zmaj Jovan, 72, 95, 195 
Jueneman, Frederic, 286-87 

Kaempffert, Waldemar, 81, 237 
Kapitza, Peter, 282, 284 
Karlstadt (Karlovac), Croatia, 17 
Kratsufrakis, John, 287 
Kelvin, Lord, 43-44, 60, 88, 89, 113, 128, 

Kemmler, William, 45 
Kennelly, A.E., 102 
Kerrigan, William, 251, 264 
Kinetoscope, 72 
Kintner, S. M., 248 
Kipling, Rudyard, 84 
Kirlian photography 93-94 
Knight, Walter H., 204 
Kolischer, Gustave, 242 
Kosanovic, Sava, 66, 224n, 257 259-62, 
265-67, 270-73, 27k 

INDEX > 315 

Ladd, D. M., 273 
LaGuardia, Fiorello H.. 266 
Lancet, The (periodical), 208 
Langley, Samuel R, 201 
Lasers, 283, 289 

Laurence, William L, 228, 255-56 
Lawrence, Ernest Orlando, 58, 59 
Lawson, Thomas, Frenzied Finance , 47 

over Tesla’s debts, 168, 174 
on Tesla’s patents, 42-43, 49-50, 69-7U, 
89-90, 110, 176-82, 204 
Leary, USS. 213 
Lenara. Philipp, 275 
Lenin, Vladimir I., 247 
Lenard rays, 254n 

artificial. 90, 113. 137-38, 288 
ball, 149-50, 154, 281-83, 284n 
“bead,” 283 
in Colorado, 140-44 

controlling of, 67 
Lightning rods, 203 

Lika (Yugoslavia), 6 
Linde, Carl, 107 
Liquid oxygen, 96-97, 107 
Literary Digest (periodical), 174, 197 
Utz wire, bl 

Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, 202 

electric, 28 
headlight for, 219 

Lodge, Sir Oliver, 60, 69, 99, 176, 178, 179 
London, 207-8 
Tesla’s lectures in, 55, 59n, 63 
Lowenstein, Fritz, 29, 135, 145, 161, 204 
Lucretius, 149 
Lynn (Mass.), 38 

Macak (a cat), 226 

McAllister, Ward, 76 

McGovern. Chauncey, 3-5, 119 

McKinley William, 121, 159 

Magnif^ng tra^mitters, 135-48, 154, 171-72, 

Maine , USS, 121 
Mandic, Petar, 41 
Manning, William T., 266 
Marbury, Elisabeth, 85 
Marconi, Guglielmo, 41, 61, 68, 125, 139, 
146, 153, 158 
Nobel Prize to, 174 
signals across Atlantic by 160, 161 
Tesla and, 69, 110, 156-57, 160, 163, 
Tesla on. 184 

Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of America 
v. United States , 176-82, 204 
Marconi Worldwide Wireless Station 
(company), 180, 181, 207 
Marie (Queen of Yugoslavia), 261 
Marincic, Aleksander 147 
Markham, James, 278 
Mars, communication with, 111-12, 114, 150. 
155, 162 

Martin, Thomas Commerford, 32, 74, 82, 

Mauborgne, T. Q, 179 
Maxwell James Clerk, 60, 72, 138 
Mayer, Emil. 194 

Medical diathermy 61, 73-74, 107, 127, 166, 

Meissner, B. F., 130 

Melba, Nellie. 84 

Menlo Park (N.JL), 28, 41 

Merington, Marguerite, 2, 84-86, 96, 127, 

Mestrovic, Ivan, 224 
Microscope, point electron, 51, 57 
Microwave Pbwer Transmission project, 284 
Mihailovic, Draza. 258-63 
Millikan, Robert A., 56-57, 59, 210, 238, 

Monaghan, Alice, 265 
Montenegro, Prince of, 89 
Moore, D. McFarlan, xvi, 53 
Morgan, Anne, 1, 85, 86, 204-6, 261 
Morgan,^! Regent, 1, 76, 81, 99, 122, 153, 

description of, 34 
Edison and, 29, 34, 46 
Tesla financed by 157-58, 160, 162, 
164-65, 167; 175 
Westinghouse and. 46-47 
Morgan, J. P. (son of Jl Pierpont Morgan), 
190-92, 247-48 
Morin, Roland Jl, 53 
Morris, Newbold, 266 
Mott, C. Jordan, 153 
Muir, John, 84 
Myers, Mr., 139 
Myers, Peter. 199 
Mystic Island (N.JL), 194 

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space 
Administration), 285 
National Academy of Sciences, 209, 211 
National Civic Foundation, 206 
National Committee for Aeronautics, 219 
National Electric Light Association, 68-69. 

National Inventors Hall of Fame, 267 
National Research Council (NRC), 211-12 
Naval Consulting Board, Edison as head ofj 
207, 209, 210-11 
Naval Radio Service, 193-94 
Naval Research Laboratory, 213 
New Brunswick (N.J.), 180-81 
New York, USS, 126 
New York Academy of Science, 105 
New York City 
AC for, 89 
Colony Club, 261 
Delmonico’s, 83, 127, 153, 162 
Electrical Exhibition (1898), 23-25, 133 
Electrical Exposition, (1896), 102 
Engineers? Club, 216-19 
“400” in, 76, 83, 86 
Gerlach Hotel, 83-84, 95 
Hotel Governor Clinton, 228, 239, 272, 

Hotel New Yorker; 228, 257, 261, 264, 
271, 274 
•ury duty in, 163 

INDEX <— ► 316 

New York City (contd.) 

McAlpin Hotel. 248 
Maguery Hotel, 84 
Metropolitan Tower, 159 
Pennsylvania Hotel, 183, 228 
Players? Club, 153, 155, 170, 200 
possible electrical supply by satellites to, 

St Regis Hotel, 226-28 
Tesla’s arrival in, 27 
Tesla’s laboratories in 
first, 36 

second, 2-5, 38, 51, 62, 70, 94, 96, 

101, 106, 109 

third, 98, 110, 115, 131-32, 161, 163 
fourth, 186 

Tesla’s nonpayment of taxes to, 207 
Triangle Factory Fire, 205 
trolleys in, 33 

Vfeldtorf-Astoria Hotel, 1, 76, 77, 84, 114, 
134, 153, 160, 174, 185, 207 
White, Stanford, murder in. 172-73 
New York Edison Company 198 
New York Hera/d, 105, 140 
New York Herald Tribune , 81 
New York Journal 121 
New York Times, ft, 81, 89, 95, 122, 131, 
163. 195-96, 200-1, 2l2, 237 
New York World, 121 
Newark (N.J.), 223 

Niagara Rills, 15, 40, 43, 87-89, 121, 235, 

Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation, 89 
Niagara Power Commission, 235 
Nikola Tesla , SS, 267 
Nikola Tesla Company 133, 156, 168, 219, 

Nitrogen, atmospheric extraction of, 114, 219 
Nobel Prize, 174, 195-97 
Northrup, Edwin, 215 
Nuclear energy see Atomic energy 

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), 

Office of Allen Property (OAP), 271-73, 

Oil fields, locating, 117 
O’Neill, John JL 49, 79, 80. 81, 117, 176, 
186, 22&29, 256-57*, 266, 270 
Prodigal Genius , xiii, xiv 
Ore deposits, locating, 117 
Oregon , SS, 29, 31 
Oscillators, 145 

Earth set in resonance by 147-48, 286-87 
“earthquake^ 1 horn, 115, 116, 118 
stationary waves produced from, 143 
Oxford University .99 

Paderewski, Ignace, 84, 109 
Palmer, Edward, 274 
Palmer; Mrs. Potter, 72 

1884, 27, 35 
1893, 70-71 

Paris, 207 

Edison’s telephone subsidiary fin, 24-25 
expositions in 
1891, 41 

1900, 134, 14647, 153, 159 
Tesla’s lectures in, 59n, 63, 64 
Persons turbine, 193 
Particle beam, see Death ray 
Paul, Prince (Regent), 255, 257, 258 
Pavlov, Ivan P, 245 
Pearson's Magazine , 3, 119 
Penzias, Amo, 284 
Perth Amboy (N.J.), 248 
Peter I (King of Yugoslavia), 194 
Peter II (King of Yugoslavia), 247, 255, 
257-59, 261-62, 265 
Petkovic, Dragislav L, 183, 218-19 
Philadelphia (Pa.), 66, 68 
Philadelphia North American , 152 
Philadelphia Press, 122 
Phillips, Albert J., 24849 
Photographic^film^rojecting mental images 

P1 wS, P 9l-94 

phosphorescent, 120 
vacuum-tube, 120, 154 
Pierre Guzman Prize, 253, 255, 256 
Pigeons, Tesla’s love for. 2, 187, 216, 217, 
225-31, 251, 264 
Pittsburgh (Pa.), 4041, 49, 121 
Pittsburgh Dispatch , 155 
Pittsburgh Reduction Company 88 
Planck, Max, 103 

Plasma physics, 52, 149, 282, 283, 289 
Poeschl (professor), 18-19, 23 
“Pogo” aircraft, 202 
Point electron microscope, 51, 57 
Polyphase-induction motors, 24 
Polyphase-synchronous motors, 24 
Pond, H. Otis, 161 
Popov, Aleksandr S., 176 
Poverty Social, 83 

Power transmission lines, buried, Insulation 
of, 152 

Prague, Tesla’s studies in, 19 
Pratt, Haraden, 176. 182-83 
Preece, Sir William k, 90, 91. 99, 146 
President Washington , SS, 18l 

Engineers , 176 
Prohibition, 170, 222 
“Project Nick,” 288 
Project Sanguine/Seafarer, 287 
Public Opinion (periodical), 128 
PUpin, Michael, 29, 4142, 45, 50, 69 74, 
82, 111, 157, 176, i09 
Tesla on. 183-84, 194 
on Tesla s discovery of radio, 179, 181 
X-ray research of, 100-2 
Puskas brothers, 24 
Pyle National Company 199 
Pyrosphere, 283 

Quantum theory 103 

INDEX <— > 317 

Quarks, 254 

Quinby E Jl, 124, 179-81 

Radar, Tesla’s ideas for, 208-9, 213-14 
Radio (wireless), 62, 64, 99, 219 
first transatlantic, 180-81 
Tesla’s work in, 68-70, 133-35, 176-84, 
223 239 

basic patents, 109-10 
Colorado Springs experiments, 134, 
138, 147, 152 

Marconi’s use of Tesla’s patent, 160, 

remote control, 110, 123-25, 128-31, 
161, 165-66, 173, 181, 193, 212 
Tesla coil, 61 

world-broadcasting tower, 92, 152, 
158-61, 164, 166, 167, 173-75 
in thermonuclear war, 287 
Radio-Electronics (periodical), 179 
Radio vacuum tube, 52, 90-91 
Radio waves, 103 
Radiometer, Crookes, 94 
Raditsa, Bogdan, 257, 259-63 
Radium, 56 

production of cheap, 253, 255 
Rado, Dr. (Paul Radosavljevic), 194, 195, 
256, 265, 266 
Rahway (N.J.), 35-36 
Randall, Jemima, 158 
Rayleigh, Lord, 63, 96, 128 
Raytheon Company 285 
Refrigeration, 204 
Remington, Frederick, 121 
Remote control, 110, 123-25, 128-31, 161, 
165-66, 173, 181, 193, 212 
Rentschler, Harvey 266 
accoustical, 111 
electrical, 113, 114 
magnifying transmitter, 135-48, 154, 
171-72, 282, 289 
mechanical, 115-18 
principle of, 57 
Rice, W. W., Jr., 217 
Rice, Warren, 199, 242 
Robots (automation), 15, 81, 129-31 
See also Remote control 
Rockefeller, John D., 76, 201 
Roentgen, Wilhelm, 100, 101, 109, 128, 239 
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 261, 265-67 
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, 247, 248, 261, 
262, 266, 267 

Roosevelt, Theodore, 123, 200 

Royal Society of Great Britain, 59n, 63 

RPvs, see Remote control 

Ruhmkorff coil, 171 

Russia, see Soviet Union 

Rutherford, Lord, 210 

Ryan, Thomas Fortune, 76, 153, 156, 166 

St Louis (Mo.), 68-69 
Satellites, electrical supply by 285 
Schenectady (N.Y.! 31 

Scherff, Georae, 80, 105, 127, 133-35, 139, 
145, 153, 155, 185, 192, 2034, 207, 

91Q.9H 99ft 9 

at Wardencl’yff, 160-62, 164, 166-67, 

Schmid, Albert, 98, 99 
Schumann, W. Q, 287 
Science News , 254 
Scott, Charles F., 99 
Seawater power plant 24142 
Secret weapons, 255-56, 272, 276-77, 

See also Death rays 

Seeley (chief examiner of patents), 129, 130 
Serbia, 95, 194-95 
Shaulis, Lloyd L., 277 
Shockley William B., 130, 131 
Sigsbee, Charles, 201 
Skerritt, Dorothy F., xv, 79, 80, 167, 186, 
187 22/ 

Slaby, Adolf, 154, 158, 176, 239 

Smiley Steel Company, 174 

Societe Frangaise de Physique, 64 

Societe Internationale des Electricians, 64 

Solar engine, 119-20 

Solar power, 162, 234 

Son of Aba, The (book), 10 

Soviet Union, magnifying transmitter 

supposed to be used by, 136, 287 
Spanish-American War, 121-2/, 140 
Spiritualism, 64, 65, 243 
Split-phase induction motors, 24 
SRI International, 282 
Stahl, Maurice, 74, 254n 
Stanley William, 38 

modification of courses of, 288 
radio waves from, 150-52 
Steinmetz, Charles Proteus, 29, 31, 42, 50, 

Stijacic, Peter Q, 194, 195 

Stone, 1 S., 176, 178 

Storm, Margaret, Tesla biography by xifl 

Strassburg (then Germany! 2o 

Stubbs, W. R, 205 

Subasic, Ivan, 259, 263 

Submarines, detection of, 208-9, 211-12 

Sukletovic, Dushan, 266 


power from, 119-20, 162, 234 
radiation from, 55-57 
SunWind, Ltd., 199-200 
Superconductors, 152-53 
Superheterodyne beat-note circuit, 69 
Swezey Kenneth M. xiv, 80, 84, 124, 130, 
172, 176, 186, 224-25, 23740, 250, 
256, 265-67, 271-73, 277 
death of, 271 

Sylvania GTE Internationa! 53 
Szigety Anita! 22 

Tamm, Edward A., 273 
Taylor, Lauriston 8., 103 
Teleautomatics. 15. 129 

INDEX <— > 318 

Teleforce, 255-56, 289 
Telegeodynamics, 117, 275 
Telegraph, 156 

Telephone exchange in Budapest, 21, 24 
Televison, 61, 196-97, 234 
Telluride (Colo.), 50 
“Terrestrial night light,” 91-92 
Tesla, Angelina (sister), 6, 66 
Tesla, Dane (Daniel; brother), 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 
189, 244 

Tesla, Duka Mandic (mother), 6-7, 11, 19-20, 
62-67, 229-30, 244 
Tesla, Marica (sister), 6 
Tesla, Milka (sister), 6 
Tesla, Milutin (father), 6-8, 10, 15, 17, 19 
Tesla, Nikola 
arrives in Amerca, 27 
on America, 122-23 

American citizenship of, 41, 193, 271, 273 
biographies of, xiii-xiv, 291-92 
billiaras proficiency of, 19, 25 
birth of, 6, 237 

capital punishment opposed by, 163 
childhood and youth of, 6-19, 225-26 
clothes and, 79, 80 
in court for nonpayment of taxes, 207 
death of, 265-67 

descriptions of, 78-82, 185, 239, 248 
Edison and, 36-34, 119, 176, 186, 218, 

AC-DC conflict, 24, 31, 33, 41, 43, 50, 
71, 75, 106 

rumored Nobel Prize, 195-97 
education of, 15-19 
employment of 

consultant, 166, 219, 223, 249 
Continental Edison Company, 24-26 
day laborer in New York City 36 
by Edison, 30-34 

Hungarian Central Telegraph Office, 21 
Nikola Tesla Company, 133, 156, 168, 
219, 236 

Tesla Electric Company, 38-40, 98 
Tesla Electric Light Company, 35-36 
by Westinghouse, 40, 223, 249 
on future society, 232-34, 244-46 
gambling of, 19-20 
honors to, 41, 79, 89, 95, 255, 267 
Edison Medal, 214-19, 227, 271, 273 
75th-birthday volume, xv-xvi, 238-40 
Yugoslav honorarium, 251 
illnesses of, 16, 17 

amnesia and exhaustion, 62-64, 244 
nervous breakdown, 21-22 
in old age, 223, 226, 251 
inventions of 

AC induction motor, 18-19, 22-25, 31, 
35-43, 50 
AC timekeeper, 61 
“aeromobile,” 203 
arc light, 36 

artificial lightning, 90, 113, 137-38 
automobile speedometer, 191, 219 
bladeless turbine, 7, 168, 188-92, 
198-200, 203, 204 
dirigible torpedo, 193 

Tesla, Nikola (cortt’d.) 
early ideas, 16-18 

flivver airplane (flying stove), 198, 201-3 
heat transformed directly into energy 36 
high-frequency alternators, 60-61 
his method, 12 

hypersensitive vacuum tube, 92-94 
intuition used, 14, 254 
Litz wire, 61 

magnifying transmitter, 135-48, 154, 
171-72, 282, 289 

medical diathermy 61, 73-74, 107, 127, 
166, 168, 242 
radio patents, 110 

remote control, 123-25, 128-31, 161, 
165-66, 173, 181, 193 
rotating magnetic field, 23 
some unexplainable today 3-4 
telephone amplifier, 24 
Tesla coil, see Tesla coils 
tube lights, 2, 53 
valvular conduit, 199 
Westinghouse’s underwriting, 120 
See also Death rays; other specific 

on inventors, 23 
laboratories of 
Bridgeport, 220 

Colorado Springs, xiv, 13, 132-51, 
153-54, 167-68, 286 
New York City see New York City — 
Tesla’s laboratories in 
Wardendyffe, 163, 166-73, 285 
laboratory acddents of, 106, 146, 169 
lectures by 23, 39, 51-57, 63, 91, 105, 

at 1893 World’s Fair, 70, 72-75 
letters to newspapers by 185, 200-1, 252 
missing papers of, 256, 270-79, 309 
Nobel Prize and, 195-97 
as originator of broad concepts, 187 
osdllator experiments of, see Oscillators 
patents of, 124, 129-31, 134-35, 152-53, 
165, 167, 175, 199, 201, 236, 285 
AC, 34n, 36, 39, 40, 42-43, 49-50, 89-90 
German, 98, 193 

lawsuits, 42-43, 49-50, 69-70, 89-90 
110 176-82, 204 
personal characteristics of 
ability to go without sleep, 31 
acute senses, 21 
cruelty, 80, 187 

flashes of lights and images, 11, 13-15 
gives up coffee and tea, 20 
linguistic ability 14 
mathematical ability 14, 15 
moderate drinking, 170 
night person. 18/-88 
obsessive behavior and phobias, 1, 9-10, 
79, 84, 134, 230, 250, 263-64 
photographic memory 12-13 
physical fitness, 237 
pigeon-love, 2, 187, 216, 217, 225-31, 
251, 264 

talking to himself during lightning 
storms, 188 

INDEX ► 319 

Tesla, Nikola (cont’d) 
poetry of, 7, 26, 243 
translation of Zmaj, 195 
precognition by 65, 66 
phychological theories of, 15, 66, 82 
religion and, 109, 244-45 
social life of, 1-2, 82-87 
See also entries under New York City 
universal-energy ideas of, 55, 95, 110-14, 
133, 162, 234, 245, 253, 275 
Colorado Springs experiments, 148-49, 

modem possibilities, 284-88 
solar engine, 119-20 
Westinghouse and, see Westinghouse, 
George— Tesla and 

women and, 1-2, 84-87, 105, 107, 225 
Eisenbud on, 229-30 
Ideas on eugenics, 245 
See also Johnson, Katharine 
works of, 293-94 
autobiography 9, 64-66, 293 
bibliography xv, 291-92 
Colorado Springs Notes, 147, 269-70, 
288, 289 

world-broadcasting tower of, 92, 158-61, 
164, 166, 167, 173-75, 190, 196 
World War II and, 259-63 
X-ray research of, 101-5 
Tesla (international scientific unit), 269 
Tesla Centennial (1956), xv, 269 
Tesla coils, 58, 61, 93, 102, 112, 166, 173, 
187, 238, 283n, 284, 288 
Tesla Electric Company, 38-40, 98 
Tesla Electric Light Company, 35-36 
Tesla Electro Therapeutic Company, 219 
Tesla Nitrates Company 219 
Tesla Ozone Company 204 
Tesla Pad, 127 

Tesla Polyphase System, 24, 38 
Tesla Propulsion Company 204, 219 
Tesla Society xv, 269 
Tesla turbine, see Turbine— bladeless 
Thaw; Harry K., 172 
Therapeutic currents, see Diathermy 
Thermonuclear war, radio blackout in, 287 
Thomson, Elihu, 23, 29, 38, 90 
Thomson^ J^egh^l, 60, 90, 103, 176, 179, 

Thomson-Houston Company 38, 44, 46 
Tidal energy system, see Geothermal plant 
Time magazine, 239 
Tirpitz. Alfred von, 191 
Tito (Josip Broz), 259-63 
Tonnele & Company, 101 
Torpedo boats, see Boats 
Townsend, Judge, 42 
Transmitters, magnifying, 135-48, 154, 
171-72, 282, 289 
Transmutation of matter, '253 
Transistors, 130, 131 
Trbojevich, Nikola, 19 
Triangle Factory Fire, 205 
Tripp, Guy E., 223 
Trump, John G., 273-78, 288 
Tube lighting, 2, 53, 72 

Tuckerton Radio Station, 194 
Turbine, bladeless, 7, 168, 188-92, 198-200, 
203, 204 

Twain, Mark (Samuel Clemens), 2-6, 16, 76, 
94, 101, 125, 170, 187, 264^65 

Uhlman, Mr, 139, 145 

University of Wisconsin, 288 

Uranium, radiation from, 56 

Uranium glass, 53, 101 

U.S. Circuit Court, 42-43, 155 

U.S. Electric Company 47 

U.S. Supreme Court, 69-70, 89, 176, 267 

Vacuum diode, 199 
Vacuum tubes, 53, 55, 113, 289-90 
in photography 120, 154 
radio, 52, 90-91 
Tesla’s hypersensitive, 92-94 
X rays and, 100-3 
Van Allen belts, 56, 287 
Vanderbilt, Mrs. Cornelius, 30 
Vanderbilt, William K., 1, 76 
Vanderbilt Mrs. William K., 30 
Venus, 150 

Tesla as being from, xiii, 82, 163 
Veragua, Duke and Duchess of, 71 
Vibrations, 5, 117 
See also Oscillators 

Vlereck, George Sylvester; 243-44, 245 

Voltaire, 18 

VTOL aircraft, 201-3 

Wait, James R, 138, 176, 286 
Walker James JL, 222 
Wall, T. F., 235 

Wallace. Henry A.. 260, 267, 272 
Walter, Helen, Tesla biography by xiii 
Waltham Watch Company. 219 
War, Tesla’s devices to end, 246 
Warden, F. P., & Company 156 
Warden, James D., 158 
Wardenclyffe, 158-75. 190, 196, 207, 285 
Warwick, Countess of, 168 
Watson, John B.. 245 
Watson-Watt, Robert A., 209n, 213 
Wave guide, 91 
earth-ionosphere, 138, 286-87 
Weather modification, 136, 148, 287 
Wembly H. W.. 265 
Wendover (UtaK), 136, 282 
West Orange, (N.J.), 43 
Western Union Telegraph Company 28, 36 
Westinghouse, George, 23, 38, 39-40, 44, 
53, 256 

challenged by Edison. 41-45 
Morgans attempt to defeat, 46-49 
Tesla and, 42, 43, 70-7L 74, 98, 99, 109, 
117, 120-21, 153, 172, 185 
Niagara contract, 87-89 
royalty contract, 40, 47-49, 168-69, 
225n, 249 

telegraphic communication, 155-56 
Westinghouse, Church, Kerr & Co., 174 

INDEX <— ► 320 

Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing 
Company, 47, 198-99, 207, 223, 
248, 251, 275 

White, Stanford, 155, 159, 172-73 
White House, electricity in, 71 
Wilhelm, Walter, xv 
Wilson, Robert W, 284 
Wilson, Woodrow, 180-81, 211 
Wind power, 162 
Wireless, see Radio 
Women’s liberation 
electric kitchen and, 72 
Tesla on, 232-34 

World War L 174, 180, 191, 193-94, 207-13 
World War II, 243, 257-63 
radar in, 209, 213-14 
Worth, N. G., 128 
Wright, Orville, 200-1 
Wright Reid, 277, 278-79 

X rays, 52, 56, 73, 96, 100-5, 166 
lead shields vs., 105 

Yaklovlev Yak-36, 202 
Yale University 79 
Young, Leo, 213 

Yugoslavia, 194-95, 24647, 255, 269 
Tesla in, 6-20, 41, 64-67, 225-26 
Tesla Museum and Institute in, xiii, 203, 
224, 240, 251, 258, 260, 270, 271, 

in World Warn, 257-63 

Zagreb (Yugoslavia), 67 

Zivic brothers, 257 

ZMAJ, see Jovanovich, Zmaj Jovan 

Zworykin, Vladimir R, 57 

"I do not think there is any thrill that can go through 
the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees 
some creation of the brain unfolding to success. . .Such 
emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love,